Get Off My Lawn!

Our house is neighboring the house on the corner.  On the perpendicular road from this intersection, one house down from this same house, is a house filled with feral children.  These children, in their angst to visit the park, save precious moments by bypassing the intersection altogether and instead blaze a trail through my backyard, driveway, and front yard.

As any self-respecting old man suburban homeowner would do, I’ve conspired in secret to find subtle ways of mitigating the problem.  I laughed evilly to myself as I fantasized over hedgerows of blackberries and poison ivy.  But these are mere irritations.  What I needed was something extreme: Unnecessary escalation to get my point across.

So I pondered the archives of knowledge I spent years of college acquiring–knowledge others have since called useless.  I scoff at their uneducated masses of business degrees.

Not on my watch

A vision of Romans and Gauls flashed through my mind, and I recounted the Battle of Alesia–the first major battle to earn the booby-trap notoriety.  Introducing, the Lilly.  Interestingly, Googling the Lilly Trap returned an odd amount of pornographic images.  I perused the thumbnails for a few minutes out of sheer curiosity before returning to my writing, naturally.  My point is, I have no appropriate visual aid to append to this paragraph, so I will describe:

It’s a trap!

The Lilly Trap was a small pit with a sharpened stick in the center.  The stick was deeply secured, and the pit was either covered with brush or filled with water.  The idea was to hide the trap, so that an unlucky infantryman would step upon it, impale his foot on the stick, and be subsequently immobilized.  Yes, this would subtly get my point across, muahaha.  I began digging.

Okay, enough of that.  This is the part where I tell you that maiming children is not my objective, although chasing them away with a 20 gauge certainly has crossed my mind.  But I had other problems to contend with, namely the drainage situation from the downspouts.

The prior owner had installed extensive waterproofing measures in the basement.  The perimeter had been trenched, and a sump pump installed.  And when we were viewing the house, there had indeed been water in the sump.  But, that was the last time it’s ever held water.

Shortly after moving in, it became obvious that the problem lied in the rainwater’s current drainage paths.  Downspouts, dutifully installed, channeled their contents directly against the house.  These areas had not been graded, so the water simply sat against the foundation.  After the first heavy rain, I deduced something was amiss when I saw the house adjacent to several small ponds.  That, I cleverly declared to myself, holding an authoritative finger of pronouncement to the sky, was not right.

So I began trenching.  But the problem with this particular corner was that the grade went up before down.  So in order to get the water away from the house, I’d have a very deep trench.  Also, the remnants of a stump were between the downspout and the far side of the rise, and I was not keen on chopping through many feet of roots.

TrenchIntroducing, the water garden.  I would trench as far as possible, then dig a deep hole, fill it with permeable material, and surround it with plants that tolerate flood/drought cycles.  The cold weather broke and we were blessed with a beautiful weekend.

And sure enough, I started hitting roots, so I ended the trench in said deep hole.  I lined the trench with bricks to provide a solid bottom, then planned to fill the remaining trench and hole with river stone, as I had on the drainage trench in the front yard.  Then it got really cold again, and we were hit with our first spring storm that flooded the project.

So good news: the water goes where it’s supposed to now and doesn’t pool near the house.  When the hole filled with water, it overflowed down the hill and away from the house.  Success!

Unfortunately, now the rain garden is a hole of muddy water almost two feet deep.  But, I have appeased the laws of hydrodynamics, and hopefully in the meantime I’m frightening the children away with my bizarre hole-digging project.  Next step: caltrops!


Help it Grow

I love gardening.  My wife loves gardening too–I think.  She appears to like it, or would like it more, if it weren’t so…outside.  I know, it confuses me too.

8X T8s!

But regardless, it is one of my few hobbies that she can at least understand and appreciate, so it was with much elation that I received an indoor growing kit from her for Christmas.

Now, as an aquarist with a preference for fresh-water planted tanks, I’m no stranger to the lighting requirements of those voracious little photosynthesizers, so I was very pleased to see that each fixture was wired for 4 T8 fluorescent bulbs.  During my aquarium struggles, I eventually wired my own lighting fixture for this exact number of bulbs myself, deciding through trial and error that this was a baseline requirement to grow much beyond algae and moss.  So, while this setup wasn’t exactly flooding the room in holy luminescence, I knew from experience that it would be sufficient, especially considering these plants wouldn’t be losing light intensity through a foot of water.  Also, the fixture came with bulbs–something I would not have expected, seeing they run about $10 each.

This being the dead of winter, plus me having a new toy; I came to a conclusion: I will determine the feasibility of maintaining an indoor garden year-round.  After all, it was too early to start seeds for an outdoor garden, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave this new device sitting idle the in the basement, begging for attention.  But…what to grow?

Help it grow!

And here’s another point of contention with my wife.  She likes organized gardens, and I lean towards the cottage look.  This is uncharacteristic of me, as in most facets of my daily existence I like ORDER!  Chaos is evil!  Yet, in the garden, I appreciate the organized chaos of nature and allow plants some freedom.  I also understand the benefits of companion planting.  Therefore, my gardens tend to be a little wild, with vaguely defined partitions.  My wife can’t stand this, but since I’m the one who does the outdoor labor, I’m the de facto arbiter of the vegetable garden’s arrangement–until she gets fed up and charges in with clippers anyway.

Therefore, when it came time to plant the indoor growing setup, I selected partially at random.  I wanted some herbs, yes, but I also wanted decoration, and to experiment on what would actually stay alive inside.

Happy Plants
Happy plants

Identify them if you can, but here’s a list of my observations:

  • Some plants from the grocery store can be successfully planted.  In this case it’s the mint and green onion.
  • Nasturtium is a weird plant.  It grows, falls over, and grows up again.
  • That poinsettia is still alive.  I don’t know what I was expecting, since I’ve never kept one past the holidays.
  • Sticking an old potato in dirt will make a huge plant.
  • Flax doesn’t like being indoors.  It protested by dying.
  • Basil and peppers want more heat I’m sure, although they are growing reluctantly.
  • The pole bean is doing what I had hoped: growing up the structure and making a pretty vine.
  • Things grow much slower inside.  I know this is obvious, but like really slow.  Those pole beans become invasive kudzu outside, but inside it took 2 months to grow a foot tall.

February sucks, but I have a small oasis of green in the cold and dark.  Now spring doesn’t seem so far away.


Pretentious Ice

It’s a question as old as alcohol itself:  “The aesthetics of this drink are pleasing, but the cloudiness of the ice is juxtaposed to the refractive index of the crystal vessel.”  I’m fairly certain those were the words used.

Historical interpretations aside, the question has been asked before.  “How do I make clear ice?”  I know this because a quick internet search revealed this dilemma to be ubiquitous.  It is the natural progression in drinking:  Discovery –> Refining tastes –> Enhancing the function of vessels –> Presentation/Aesthetics.  Each stage in the discovery is dependent on its predecessor.  Alcohol must be discovered before one can develop personal taste.  A refinement of taste is required before the functionally enhancing aspects of the vessel can be appreciated.  And ultimately the primary and secondary purposes of alcohol, namely its inebriating and tasty qualities, must be acquired before the ultimate tertiary properties of aesthetics can be applied.

As an experienced drinker (or depending on who you ask: functioning alcoholic), I have long since advanced upon this hierarchy of needs.  Having mastered the art of garnishes, and having acquired a respectable quantity of crystal bar-ware, one point of concern remained.

So, as with all of life’s great mysteries, I immediately started a journey through the Internet.  The Holy Oracle, i.e. Google, referred me to numerous blogs and forums which attempted to address this glaring deficiency in mixology.

As a side note, I wanted to jest a moment on the nature of Internet forums.  After the golden age of the Internet’s nubile novelty and innocence, its inevitable ubiquity brought with it the general trash of humanity.  Trolls.  But after the tipping point, when the Internet became universal, when more forums entered existence than could be discovered in a lifetime, well, trolls tend to gravitate towards the larger masses of Internet presences to achieve maximum effect.  That is, the more esoteric the discussion, the more decreased the likelihood that a troll will crawl out of the filth to infect the core of knowledge.  While I only found limited information on the way of ice and its translucency, there definitely weren’t any trolls in those discussions.

But back to the problem at hand.  I compiled a list of repetitious advice:

  1. Use distilled water
  2. Freeze slowly
  3. Use hot water
  4. Use boiled water
  5. Use twice-boiled water
  6. Freeze in large blocks

After thorough testing, most of these were either nonsense or had no measurable impact.  I will elaborate:

  1. Use distilled water  More importantly, use relatively clean water.  The focus here is to reduce dissolved impurities, so the quality of local tap water is paramount.  If it’s very bad, then yes, I suppose distilled would net obvious improvements.
  2. Freeze slowly  Nonsense, and not worth the effort.
  3. Use hot water  Bingo!  Hot water of course holds fewer dissolved gasses, which are the primary cause of cloudiness.
  4. Use boiled water  The temperature hits a point of diminishing returns.  Any variations above say 130 degrees were negligible.  And if the water is too hot it’s just dangerous to handle, and it can melt plastic.
  5. Use twice-boiled water  I’m not sure what the logic on this one is.  Maybe it purges any gasses not purged the first time?  I’m sure someone with more knowledge in chemistry/physics could explain this theory, but in practice it’s negligible.
  6. Freeze in large blocks  Also bingo!  The volume allows the trapped air to congregate as the ice freezes inward, leaving the periphery devoid of air.  [Edit 2017.4.28:  Leave the water sit out for 20 minutes before placing in freezer.  This will allow it to offgas more before ice traps the air, without allowing so much time that the cooling water absorbs more gas]

Conclusion:  reduce the total amount of dissolved gas by heating the water, then freeze the water in a volume large enough that the amount of remaining dissolved gas isn’t noticeable at the edge of the resultant ice.  This second part–the volume–is open to experimentation.  I’ve tried various volumes and container shapes with wildly different and inconsistent results.  I will say that long and flat Tupperware seems to work better.  Maybe it’s the increased surface area of exposed water.

One problem remains–how to separate the clear ice from the cloudy.  I found the solution lay, as it often does, in violence and needless waste.  A hammer and old steak knife chipped the ice into manageable chunks, and a running faucet of hot water could melt the cloudy ice off the clear.  Is the latter wasteful?  Yes.  But…the cost of perfection always leaves casualties in its wake.  Besides, look at this:


Also, the clear ice melts slower, so bonus.  Your guests might not appreciate it, but there will be no argument on your pretentiousness.  Toast yourself on having achieved drinking self-actualization.


S/MIME Email Encryption

As long as I’m shouting into the void, I’ll mention a recent tutorial I summarized on implementing S/MIME email encryption, specifically within iOS.

The lock means encrypted

I am very cognizant of the fact that people as a whole, when faced with the decision of mildly inconveniencing themselves for security vs. not using security at all, will inevitably choose the latter.  It is a predictable constant which infuriates me immensely.

There, I voiced my opinion on the matter.  With that preface, I will avoid the more lengthy soapbox speech.  You’re welcome.

I categorize various technologies into one of three overly-simplified classifications: “Not Secure”, “Probably Secure”, and “Secure Beyond Reasonable Doubt”.  The email protocol as a whole falls under “Not Secure”, however, circumstances may allow it a “Probably Secure” status.  For example, when the sender’s email provider’s server sends the email to the recipient’s email provider’s server, it has the option to negotiate encryption.  This encryption is not enforced, so if either server opts to not support it, then there is no encryption.  Also, there is no way to verify this level of encryption as the user doesn’t see this process.  Now, certain email providers can be assumed to use encryption as the default, based upon their established reputation.  Google, for instance, does default to encryption with their Gmail service.  Therefore, if both the sender and the recipient are using Gmail accounts, then it can be safely assumed that the email remained encrypted in transit, therefore it is “Probably Secure”.  But this a very specific example, and cannot be assumed or confirmed by the end users.

Another example of “Probably Secure” is Apple’s iMessage.  This messaging service not only defaults to, but requires encryption.  The caveat is that Apple itself creates and maintains the encryption keys.  This is where a lesson in how public key infrastructure operates would add context, but any explanation I could offer would be far less robust than that of a crypto-analyst’s, so if curious, you know, LOOK IT UP!

The conclusion here is that while iMessages are indeed encrypted, we’re relying solely on a third party to keep them that way, and again the user has no way of verifying the process.  Therefore: “Probably Secure”.

The point being: in certain circumstances you are probably okay, but sometimes being probably okay isn’t good enough.  My wife and I often have the need to exchange sensitive information, as no doubt many married couples do.  Health information, other personal information about ourselves and our daughter, financial information, the need to exchange login credentials to sites that house this information–these are instances where “Probably Secure” doesn’t inspire much confidence, whereas coordinating dinner plans doesn’t need that level of security.

Which brings me to the solution and my ultimate point: a system exists that can provide “Secure Beyond Reasonable Doubt” communication, and as the title of this post would suggest, that is called “S/MIME Email”.  The base concept is that both users obtain encryption certificates and, using the public key exchange system on which all modern asymmetric encryption is based, encrypt and decrypt each others’ emails before they are sent and after they are received at the device level.  Nowhere in transit will the email be unencrypted (such as in webmail).

For a better understanding and background on the technology, some keywords to search for are: “S/MIME”, “Public Key Infrastructure”, and “Asymmetric Encryption”.

Moving on: the process is somewhat irritating to set up initially, plagued by the individual quirks of each device/computer and email client.  After trial and error, I have compiled a brief walkthrough of the process for iOS–of which, I note, I was unable to find in its entirety elsewhere on the internet (specifically uninstalling previously installed recipients’ certificates).  I have housed the walkthrough on my Wiki: .

iOS Mail Encryption Settings
S/MIME is not on by default for some reason

Good luck, and keep your private information safe!



I’ve been curious about WordPress, and when I saw that I could install it on my server, I concluded that I would experiment.  It was either that or work, and since I turned down an invitation to a seminar on Emotional Intelligence, decided that I should put that suddenly open block of time to better use.  And since doing anything else is literally more constructive than  hearing about the values of said fad, well, the bar was set fairly low.

Introducing: my WordPress Experiment!  Because surely what the world needs is yet another angry and brooding individual shouting their thoughts into the void of the Internet.  In actuality, as is with the majority of my personal projects, this is simply another attempt to amuse myself and learn about a new technology in the process.  Therefore, if you have no interest in hearing the dissenting ramblings of a troubled mind, begone!  You have been issued a fair warning.