Reza's new name

Reza and Alex
As far as I can tell Reza has been working on his PHD in Pathobiology for at least...well, forever I think. He's a very smart man who I am honored to call my brother as a result of his being my son’s uncle.

On December 9th John, Sara and I drove through a blizzard to see his thesis defense, while Christine held down the fort and took care of Alex and Conner. Mother Nature was apparently not pulling for Reza. She let her wrath be felt by covering New England in a snow, rain, ice, and blustery wind mixture that knocked cars off highways, slowed traffic to a crawl and howled against the windows of the lecture hall where Reza was presenting.

Leading up to this day Reza had run countless experiments, wrote papers that were published in science journals, wrote a 292 page thesis (for which I can only assume he was paid by the word), prepared an animated Power Point presentation that would make most high level executives weep in envy, and presented his findings in front of people that would be lucky to be called his peers. All of this got him into a room where he withstood a 2 1/2 hour grilling from 5 professors asking him anything they wanted… When all that was done, and it seemed success was at hand, it turned out that he didn’t have the right Signature Paper, and so his last act as Mr. Reza was to run down the hall and print out the correct one. In the end Reza prevailed over the papers, Power Point, questions, Mother Nature and even the Signature Paper.

Thus from this day forth, he shall be known as Dr Reza.


Conner comes home... the projects continue

Conner’s arrival gave me a great reason to take some time off work. Thanks to my Mom’s help we were able to get settled in with Conner while she played with Alex and took care of the house. For anyone having a baby I highly recommend having my Mom come stay with you for a week or two. She Rocks! The arrival of Conner didn't slow down the house projects though. Here's the projects that happened in the days after Conner came home.

My Dad came to town and helped me install a kid's banister in our 1st floor stairwell. It took Alex a day to start using it and now he goes up and down the stairs all the time.

  • Vonage: I cut our phones over from Verizon to Vonage. I actually physically cut the external verison phone connection to the house so and now our phones work through a linksys router. Instead of getting a new wireless router I tried to save some money by getting a non wireless one and connecting my existing wireless to it. It caused all sorts of problems with VPN and double NAT-ing. I had to put the Vonage linksys at the edge of my network with my wireless router behind it in order to get QOS to work. If I had it to do again I would get just one wireless Vonage linksys router and call it a day. Anyway, if I hadn’t tried to be smart, it would have been up and running in 5 minutes. Vonage is way cheaper than a traditional phone and its got cool features like the ability to email my voicemails to me.

  • TV locks: replaced the locks on the TV cabinet my father built. Alex had put all sorts of stuff in them.

  • Plummer:Cleared clog in the master bath drain. Hey look at me I’m a plumber!

  • Garage shelves: This was the best. After all the help left, Alex said “Daddy I want to do a project. So we installed shelves in the garage and hung a bunch of stuff on the walls. It freed up a bunch of space on the garage floor, and no Alex knows all about ladders.


Happy Birthday Conner!

Conner Paul Russell has arrived! He was born 7 lb. 2.4oz. and 19 1/2 inches at 7:59 PM November 13th, 2005. His birth was the catalyst for the taking of some 16.2 million digital pictures. Here are 5 of them in chronological order:

Conner was welcomed into the world by his parents and the russellpour gang. Here is Christine with (left to right) Uncle Reza, Aunt Teresa, Aunt Sara and Uncle (they can't make a memory card big enough for my camera) John, watching Conner wrestle a nurse. Conner won by a 5-0 decision. The russellpour's have got this birth thing down. Instead of sitting in a waiting room for 14 hours like they did with Alex, they checked in by phone every once in a while. They did some shopping, went out to dinner and called for a status report about 90 seconds after Conner was born. Fortunately, a recording of that conversation exists:

Paul's Phone: Ring... Call from John

Paul: He was just born 90 seconds ago.

John: So this isn't a good time then?

This was taken November 13, 2005, 10:27:54 PM. Count them... 2 hours and 29 minutes after giving birth and Christine's totally cool and totally beautiful.

Later that night Conner and I had a talk about some of the things we will be doing together. I can't remember exactly which one we are discussing here. It's either playing the Saxophone or the physics of Play-Doh.

Alex & Nanna met Conner the next morning. Conner gave Alex this totally cool wooden tool set and Alex was pretty protective of his little brother. When Conner cried, Alex immediately went to Christine to help saying "Mama, Condor is sad."

And they lived happily ever after.

We brought Conner home from the hospital around 10 PM Monday, November 14th. Tom and Jerry, veterans of us bringing home a baby, gave Conner a quick sniff and approving purr and immediately jumped into Christine's lap. You can tell they missed her.

One last thing that should not be forgotten... I work with Uncle John & Aunt Sara. Here is the copy of the email John sent out at work announcing Conner's arrival.
From: John
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2005 9:45 AM
To: everyone we work with
Subject: The newest Russell has arrived

Conner Paul Russell finally graced us with his
presence at approx. 8pm on Sunday November 13th.
Yaaayyyyy. He is very cute... a bit wrinkly,
but really cute.

Both mother and baby are doing very well.

Paul is as crazy as ever.


Kitchen Speakers

A while back I installed a computer in our kitchen center island. The computer went in a cabinet and the monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers went on the center island. This did require me to drill a hole in the island counter top, and while most people flinch when they hear that I did that, everyone that sees the results thinks it’s a very cool idea. At least that’s what they tell me.

Since the kitchen is the main room of the house we listen to a lot of music/radio there. Prior to the computer, we had a stereo system with speakers subtly placed on top of the upper cabinets. When the computer was installed, the stereo left and we started using the computer speakers. There were 2 problems:

  1. The computer speakers were nice but didn’t sound very good in a big room

  2. If you were sitting at the computer the sound was always too loud, and if you weren’t, you couldn't hear much of anything

dialog sample
So I decided to hook my computer up to the stereo speakers via a 30+ year old amplifier (see pick to the right)that my father gave me. (Actually, I think the amp was his idea. Thanks Dad!) The cool thing about this amp (no pun intended) is it generates almost no heat. So here’s what I did:

  1. Connected the computer to the amplifier via the 8th inch to stereo RCA cable that came with my iPod.

  2. Fed stereo wire through an existing electrical wire hole in the bottom of the island into the basement.

  3. Fed stereo wire up through an existing hole in the kitchen floor behind the refrigerator. The hole is also used for a small water tube connecting to the fridge.

  4. Fed the stereo wire up from behind the fridge between a hidden gap in the back of the cabinets.

  5. Connected the speaker wires to the amp and the speakers.

  6. Plugged in the amp, turned it on, opened WinAmp and played Christmas music.

dialog sample

The result is that I'm fairly giddy at having finally finished a relatively simple project after talking
about it for 2 years. Music also sounds better in the kitchen... But mostly all you hear is me saying,
"Aren't the speakers great! It's finally done! Did you notice the speakers are off the counter?!" I
don't know why, but I'm really glad this projects finished. The pic at the right (click to enlarge) shows the island
sans computer speakers!
The working kitchen speakers are the black boxes on top of the cabinets.

Anyway, with all our music ripped to the hard drive, and most radio shows being streamed over the internet we now have the speakers, stereo and piles of CDs off the island, and we can still listen to it with a click of a mouse. The best part is that I was able to recycle parts from old systems so I didn’t have to buy anything!

The SoulShine Reunion Gig

SoulShine (name change imminent) is a Rock/Blues band John and Reza put together. I play bass. We've been playing for a few years, and have a strange history of having drummers leave the band to go back to graduate school or join the Secret Service. Our latest drummer has improved the coolness factor of the band 10 fold and we've been playing a few gigs. Over the summer we didn't get to play together because John was touring the world for work. Saturday October 22nd we had our first gig in 4 months at the Gael House in Clinton Mass. Best gig ever.

The new tunes

We had two rehearsals before the gig, relearned 30 songs and 4 new ones. A fifth new song to SoulShine “Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard” was a rehearsal train wreck three times. We decided the day of the gig that since we couldn't play through it in rehearsal we'd leave it out of the set list. So the gig started and we were playing great! Given our unprecedented amount of preparation for the gig, everyone was relaxed and having a good time. All the other new tunes came off really well... And then... at the end of the night, after a little over 3 hours of playing a girl requests “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. And John just starts singing it as if he wasn't there in rehearsal when we had to stop 3 times in a row because the song just fell apart. The drums kick in and Reza starts shouting cords at me between the group sining sections...

It was the by far biggest hit of the night. A large group of girls that had been on the other side of the bar came running over and started dancing like well choreographed... well... strippers. That in turn got the guys in the bar interested. And for that night, we were rock stars...

John keeps singing

Somehow we made it through without a train wreck, and then Reza lost his mind and started playing Hazy Shade of Winter in F. F is the key the Bangles (a band of all women) sing it in. Even people like Simon and Garfunkel think that's high... They sing it in D. That meant the last 5 songs of the gig all required John to sing loud and above his range. After a full night of singing he would have been perfectly justified to throw something at Reza, but he decided to sing. And he sounded good. It was an amazing night.

Pictures & Set List

The pics from the night fell victim to our greatness as rock starts. As soon as we started playing the only person with a still camera stopped taking pictures in order to listen/drink/dance. These are the few pics of us during warm up and sound check.

The Band: This is a rare picture. There are only 3 minutes during the entire gig where John isn't behind the keyboard. Somehow this was the only full band picture we got.

Me & Reza: This is me and Reza. Notice I'm sportin a beard. It started when I took a week off from work and forgot to shave... So far I haven't remembered. This picture isnt reflective of the amount of time I spend laughing at near Reza or pretending to sing backup... We'll have to work on getting a picture of that.

Reza is the second greatest guitar player and ever. I'd say the best but he's to modest, and wouldn't accept that. Most of the songs we play are designed to get Reza to a guitar solo. He's been known to use a beer bottle as a slide and there's no one better at building a solo slowly into a frenzy. His 5 minute solo in Whipping post is my favorite.

John: John can cover any style of music as long as he's got a keyboard. He plays awesome solos in Southbound (Allman Brothers) and Jump (Van Halen).

Milosh: Milosh is to cool for this band... Look at him... This is during a warm up tune! Once he gets going its best to give him room.

For posterity this is what I remember of the set list:
Set 1: (warm up set)                Set 4:
Couldn't Stand the Weather Wish You Were Here
Just What I Needed Blind My Eyes (Reza Original)
Margaritaville (didnt go over well)
Set 2: Me Julio Down by the Schoolyard
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (with guest co-drummer)
Hazy Shade of Winter (new) Impression that I get (new)
Sweet Emotion Centerfold
Piano Man Hard To Handle
Every Rose Has Its Thorn Pour Some Sugar on Me
Laid (new) Hazy Shade of Winter (again)
Sweet Home Jenny Says
Fat Bottom Girls Whipping Post
I'm A Believer

Set 3: Also in there somewhere:
Sample in a Jar I'm A Believer (I' pretty sure
Blvd of Broken Dreams (new: we played this twice)
John & Reza started Leave my Woman Alone (new Reza Original
singing Wonderwall over title may be wrong. We learned
milosh. Its basically the it that day, and I only know
same song. ) the chords so far.)
Comfortably Numb
You Shook Me All Night Long
Sweet Child 'o Mine
Summer of '69
Hard Days Night
Freebird to Heaven


Doorbell OFF switch

Have you ever spent 3 hours trying to sooth a crying baby to sleep, and just as you realize things are finally quiet, your neighbor rings the doorbell to return a beer you left in his fridge the previous year, thus waking the recently subdued baby and restarting the marathon baby crying session? No? OK, how about the one where the entire family has a cold, and their all finally sleeping peacefully, and an overzealous delivery guy rings the doorbell 52 times in 7 seconds, waking everyone from a tenuous nap, so he can get you to sign for a pair of socks you ordered online?I've got one of these stories for every day of the week. That's why I invented the doorbell kill switch.

The doorbell OFF switch is a simple switch that I wired into my doorbell. When its in the ON position the doorbell works normally. BUT... When switched to the off position it breaks any possibility of the doorbell circuit ever closing thus giving me the power to keep people from waking a family member from a much needed nap... Unless, of course, the visitor knows how to knock really, really, loud.

Before: A simple unassuming doorbell that can, with a push of a button turn your home from a peaceful comfortable refuge to something more reminiscent of the ninth concentric circle from Dante's Inferno.

During: Fitting the switch looked like it was going to be difficult. There want a lot of room for error. Fortunately Alex was around to say "I want to play Play-Doh!" and several unappealing hours with a compass and a high school geometry book were replaced with a much more practical solution. What your looking at is the inside of the doorbell cover after it was filled with Play-Doh and hung on the wall for a few seconds. The Play-Doh formed around the doorbell internals making it easy to position the switch.

After: It works! A picture doesn't really explain how cool this is. Set it to off, and they can push the doorbell button until their finger falls off... You dont hear a thing! Best of all, our doorbell button has a light in it. When you flip the switch to OFF, the light goes out!


A kid friendly Banister & Shelves

The latest home projects just finished up. I manage to sneak these in on a day off from work. Alex has become very helpful and was a big contributor to these projects. As the title of this entry suggests there were two major categories.

1) A kid friendly banister

This one was Christine's idea. A kid height banister in the garage. Alex did a lot of the work on this one. He kept all the supplies in order, extra screws on hand and even did some of the wood cutting. I was surprised to learn that our stairs descend at 42 degrees instead of the 45 I expected. The banister was cut to be flush with the wall at a 45 degree angle. Those 3 degrees really made the kid banister look silly next to the existing one, so Alex and I needed to do a lot of filing and sanding to get it right.

Before: A set of stairs so precarious, even the cat won't try them.

After: Safe, fun and easy to navigate at any height.

Just after that: Alex decides to give up banisters.

2) Shelves moving and adding

So we have these wire shelves in all our closets, and when you look at a closet with a wire shelf the first thing you think is "I need more of those!" At least that's what Christine thought. I'm glad I remembered the before pictures for these. The difference was suprising. I did

Laundry Closet Before: It's a bit cluttered and that shelf is just a little too high for storing big detergent bottles.

Laundry Closet After: Again, per Christine's suggestion, I lowered the bottom shelf about 6 inches and added a second shelf. Oddly the biggest improvement is that we can keep extra paper towel rolls here instead of the basement.

Hall Closet Before: It's actually pretty dumpy looking, but look at all that extra space neer the ceiling!

Hall Closet After: I added an extra shelf above the existing one. Now the games are out of the way of the day to day things. Unfortunately it looks like we're going to have to run out and get more stuff to fill that empty spot.

That's all for now... Though I see a lot more shelf installation in my future...


Trick or Treat - Alex Style

Tonight I sat Alex down and had a man to man talk with him about the basics (from a kids perspective) of Halloween. I explained that "We go out to people’s houses, say trick or treat, and they give us candy. Do you want candy?" Alex responded "I want a lollypop!"

Our first stop was to pick up some friends. Alex was thrilled when he got a lollypop at their house. Once we got started it took a while for him to get comfortable with going up to houses. Finally we came to a house where some other kids were explaining their costumes to the residents. Alex got over his nerves, ran up the steps and announced "Tada! Ladybug!" Apparently his Spiderman costume was lost on him.

So there he was, standing on a step dressed up as Spiderman/ladybug with a lollypop in his mouth and a near empty trick or treat bag. The woman at the door held out the bowl of candy and asked if he would like one. Alex smiled up at her and said "No thanks, I have a lollypop."


Alex says thank you

A few days ago Alex and Christine gave each other a kiss. This dialog followed...

Christine: Thank you Alex!

Alex: No, Thank You Mama.

Christine: No, Thank you Alex!

Alex: No, Thank You Mama.

Christine: No, Thank you Alex!

Alex: [sternly]No Mama... Stop Mama... Thank You Mama.

Christine: [pause] You're welcome Alex!

Alex: [big smile] No problem Mama!


Resizable images on a web page

screen shot
The other day trying to make an audiobook using the instructions
from my old audiobook post.
I found myself jumping back and forth between the instructions
and the full size screen shot that was linked via a thumbnail.
The thumbnail to the right is the one from the audiobook post…

I realized that it would be nicer if the image resized inside the context of
the page instead of loading a new page when I clicked on it. That way I could
still read the instructions and see the image at its full size or thumbnail
size. Then I realized that it’s pretty easy to make an image do that. Try it...
Click on the thumbnail. It will alternatively resize between a big and a small
image without reloading the page!

How it works in 3 parts:

Part 1: A JavaScript function that tells the image to resize.
You add this to the <head> section of your page once and any image can use it. Here's the code:

/* changeImageSize(image, bigWidth, bigHeight,
smallWidth, smallHeight)

Purpose: alternates the size of an image on
the page from big to small based on
the settings provided by the call to
the function.

image: an image tag object
bigWidth: the image width to use when
displaying a the big size
bigHeight: the image height to use when
displaying a the big size
smallWidth: the image width to use when
displaying a the small size
smallHeight: the image height to use when
displaying a the small size

Note: the decision to swith size is based on a
comparison of the image objects current
width to the big size.


<img width="212" height="230"
alt="dialog sample"

function changeImageSize(image, bigWidth, bigHeight,
smallWidth, smallHeight)

// see if the width of the image is set to
// the small size if so, make it big
if (image.width == smallWidth)

Part 2 (optional): CSS
that to causes the green highlight and changes the cursor type when you mouse over the image.
You add this to the <head> section of your page. It's optional, but very cool to use.
Here's the code:

/* images that have the ability to grow and
shrink should use this class */
.imgGrow {
margin: 10pt 10px 10px 10pt;
padding: 10px;
cursor: hand;
border:1px dashed;


Part 3: The image tag. This is the HTML you would use to add the image
to your page. Here's the code:

<img width="212" height="230"
alt="dialog sample"

  1. The width and height tags should be set to the initial size you want the image displayed.

  2. The class="imgGrow" tells the image to use the style we defined in step #2.

  3. Set src="[the url location of your image]".

  4. The onclick="changeImageSize(this,220,146,110,73)" tag is what makes the image resizable. Its 5 arguments in order

    • the image object: just type "this" its a javascript keyword

    • bigWidth: the image width to use when displaying a the big size

    • bigHeight: the image height to use when displaying a the big size

    • smallWidth: the image width to use when displaying a the small size

    • smallHeight: the image height to use when displaying a the small size

Once you have parts 1 and 2 added to you're page just add images using the convention in part 3.

Share and Enjoy.


What Alex wants for Christmas

Last night Christine and I were sitting on our bed talking about Christmas presents. Alex climbed up and the following conversation commenced.

Alex: Whaya doing mama?

Christine: Writing down things I want for Christmas. Do you want something for Christmas?

Alex: ummm.... YEAH!

Christine: What would you like?

Alex: ummm... appows!

Christine: Ok apples, anything else?

Alex: ummm... nanannas!

Christine: Banannas check, anything else?

Alex: chewwies?

Christine: Sure, Cherries! Anything else?

Alex: and a ciwcle

Christine: One Circle. Got it, anything else?

Alex: no thanks.


Going paperless & backing up data

My latest project was to find a way to safely back up our home data. The pictures of Alex are by far the most important, but we also recently decided to go paperless. Paperless means everything that would have been in a filing cabinet, or more accurately in a giant pile next to our filing cabinet, was scanned into our computer using our new Cannon 3000ex scanner.

PDF Creator: The only thing in our way of true paperless-ness was the need to print out web receipts or online credit reports in order to then scan them into our computer. Open Source to the rescue… I found this great program called PDF Creator. Once installed it works just like a printer, except it writes a PDF to your disk instead of using paper. Try it out… Save a tree…

Having recently lost a number of family photos to a hard drive melt down I was sufficiently motivated to get backups working. Here's what I did:

  1. I bought a Western Digital 160GB USB 2.0 External Drive for $117 on tax free day in MA.

  2. Per my brothers recommendation I downloaded an Open Source Synchronization/Backup tool called Unison.

Unison is very slick. Basically you write a short property file (called a profile) that describes what you want backed up, and then you call Unison and pass it the name of the property file. The doc on the Unison website is very good.

Backing up turned out to take a while since I had about 95GB of docs, pictures and music, so I decided to have three separate backup profiles. Documents, pictures and music. Below is an example of the "documents" backup profile. In it you can see how I keep it from backing up pictures and music so that I can do that separately.

## my_documents_backup.prf
## This is the backup script tht backsup everything in My Documents
## except pictures and Music it was created 2005-08-21 by russelldad.
## to call this profile type `unison my_documents_backup`
##at the command line
label = My Documents backup script

## take the stuff from here
root = C:/Documents and Settings/Compaq_Owner/My Documents/
## and synk it to here (the external drive)
root = K:/my_documents/

## this tells unison to make `root = K:/my_documents/` an
## exact copy of the source location. I only use this property
## when backing up music files since the directories often get
## reordered. without this force command I'd end up with
## multiple copies of my music in both locations. With it, I get
## an exact mirror of my music files.
## so just to be clear, this force command doesnt belong
## in this property file, but its an important tidbit
## from another one, so I driped in into the blog
force = C:/Documents and Settings/Compaq_Owner/My Documents/

auto = true
batch = true

## Changes under this directory will get backed up
backup = Name *

## this is where the backups will go
backupdir = K:/backups/

## files under this director will not have their
## changes backed up
backupnot = Path My Music

## dont backup My Music
ignore = Path My Music
ignore = Path My Pictures
ignore = Path My Videos

## 10 backups will be kept of a changed file
maxbackups = 10

## make unison log everything
log = true

I put shortcuts on my desktop to batch files with the unison calls to the different profiles, and now we just click the shortcut and the data gets backed up. I could have put them on a cron job, but our computer is in standby mode a lot due to a heating issue. Stay tuned they'll be power tools involved in fixing that one...

So that’s it. If either my computer or the backup drive dies, I immediately copy the contents of the other drive somewhere else. And because I lost them once, and am now a bit neurotic, I keep DVD backups of the family pictures.


Screen Spliner's Guild

This weekend, I became an official member of the International Screen Spliner's Guild of Northern South Dakota (henceforth referred to as “The Guild”). The previous screen had been mauled into an open door shape by our cats Tom and Jerry.

In order to become a member I had to procure the following items.

  • 1 pet proof screen & splineing tool

  • 12 cold beers (minimum)

  • At least 2 members of “The Guild”

And follow these steps to replace the screen. Fortunately, Reza and John are already official members of “The Guild” and graciously showed me the steps required to replace a screen; thus becoming and official member of “The Guild”:

  1. Open 3 beers

  2. Drink beer

  3. Remove the old screen (you shouldn't need a crowbar)

  4. Drink beer

  5. Unroll the new screen

  6. drink beer

  7. review the quality of the spline and splining tool while drinking beer

  8. identify that John's beer is broken & replace it with a functioning beer

  9. drink more beer

  10. line the new screen up so that its perpendicular lines are parallel to the screen frame sides. This is important to complete before all of the first three beers are broken.

  11. Drink beers

  12. replace Paul and Reza's broken beers with cold functioning beers

  13. have one guild member push spline into the spline track while the other guild member holds the screen in place and makes comments such as.. “good good”, “wait... its a little crooked...” and “damn thats good.” The rookie should continue drinking beer.

  14. Having completed one side of the screen spline everyone should drink. Broken beers are replaced as necessary.

  15. The rookie, thats me, then splines the next side of the screen while the guild members each hold the screen with one hand and drink with the other.
  16. Upon successful splinting by the rookie everyone finishes there beer and gets a new one.

  17. Carefully review the initial two splines, drink and redo the rookie spline.
  18. Drink beer more

  19. spline the fifth side stopping to drink as necessary
  20. More drink beers

  21. final the finish spline, with paying careful attention to drinking and the last corner which will invariably be covered in beer and a little crooked.

  22. Finish the rehung beer door.

As you can see the splinting tool is critical to your ability to open the beer. Once complete its important not to get upset that you forgot to take a “Before picture”. Remember you had to drink a lot to finish this project, and you can hardly be blamed for forgetting such a small detail.

I'd like to thank my guild brothers John and Reza for inducting me into the International Screen Spliner's Guild of Northern South Dakota.


Contacting elected officials

Today in Google News I saw the scariest thing I've seen in the news... ever.

A PRESIDENT of the United States would be able to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against enemies planning to use weapons of mass destruction under a revised "nuclear operations" doctrine to be signed in the next few weeks. - Giles Whittell
found via Google links for this story

At this point in my life, the news related to the previous statement is scarier than the threat of terrorism, our inability to support the citizens of New Orleans after Katrina, or our official government policy stating that there is no such thing as global warming. I decided to inform my elected officials of my concern. It turned out to be surprisingly easy.

Here'’s how I contacted my elected officials:

  1. Visit It has a "Find Your Representative" feature.
  2. Enter in your 9 digit zip code.

  3. Click "“Go"
  4. The resulting page give you a list of each of your elected representatives. Click on a name to get a web page with their bio.
  5. On each elected officials bio page is a link to their Web Mail Address which is usually a web form where you can type a letter and submit it.

The websites for the senators I contacted stated that they would contact me. The House of Representative site was a generic site for all representatives and made no such promise. Hopefully the preemptive nuclear strike policy will blow over without getting adopted. In the mean time, it will be interesting to see what response and possible action my letters elicit.

Update 2005-09-13 because a firend asked... Here's the text of the letter I sent. By publishing this I guess it becomes an open letter... I always thought my first open letter would be about technology not politics... oh well... Anyway, on each website, they asked for my contact info, so there was no need to include it in the letter.

Representative McGovern,

Senator Kerry,

Senator Kennedy,

(I addressed each of them seperately)

I’m asking for your support in stopping the United States doctrine of pre-emption and specifically the proposed policy of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

I was extremely disturbed by the news that our government is investigating plans to deter other countries from using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) through the use or threat of pre-emptive nuclear strikes. As a country we have already demonstrated our inability to distinguish between a country with WMDs and one without, before taking military action.

As horrible as recent events have been (Iraq, government response to Katrina, and the falling standing of the US on the world stage), the possibility of our country pursuing a further aggressive pre-emptive strategy is downright terrifying.

I do not want my children growing up in a world where they are hated and hunted because they grew up in a country where their government terrorized the world. For the last few years we have been behaving like a bully in a schoolyard. Our aggressive behavior has to stop. Acting aggressively, sooner or later we’re going to lose one of these confrontations.

I’ve attempted to keep my comments brief as you have many issues on your plate. Please feel free to contact me via email or phone at any time if you would like to discuss this issue further.


Paul Russell


Vacation Projects

I took a week off work to relax, and managed to finish a bunch of house projects.

  • The Baby Name: Ok this isnt a house project, but its huge news! We settled on a name for our baby boy due on November 11th! And the name is... Conner! It took a long time to find the perfect name, but we finally found the one. We asked Alex, and he seems to like it too, though we asked him if he wanted to be a big brother and he said "No. Alex, tiny brother."

  • Finishing the attic & basement prep: I finished the work previously started on the attic floor.
    I added the final 128 square feet to the attic floor. This was a big deal because it it means there is now a place to put all the stuff we have in the basment, which means that we can start to finish the basment, which means that we will have a playroom for the kids, we'll get back our home office, and we have a place for guests to stay and most importantly, we'll have a place for the band to play in the winter.

    The pics below are the result of the attic floor and probably the last time anyone will ever see the attic empty (almost empty anyway).

  • Fixed the gutter downspouts: The downspouts were too close to the ground and the water was draining right into the foundation. I borrowed my brothers saber saw and raised the gutters so that I could add 15% grade to the gutters taking water away from the house.

  • Replaced stuff: The furnace air filter, washing machine fill hoses, house wireless phones and the vans right front tire. That tire had the slow leak from hell. a 36 lb tire that could sloly drop to 18lbs. Glad thats fixed.

  • Computer Memory: Added 512mb of memory to the house computer. Thanks to Reza for his help with the hardware. Its possible that left to my own devices, the It was a lot slow... Much better now.


How to make an iPod AudioBook from a CD AudioBook - take 2

Compared to my previous post this method:

  • Is faster (that's good)

  • Guarantees file sizes that work with your iPod (that's good too)

  • Results in more files/entries per book (not great, but not a huge deal)

If your starting with mp3 files, my previous post is still useful... was the first place I saw this info.

The important concept:
An iPod AudioBook is an
(iTunes gives these files the file extension .m4a) encoded sound file
that has the file name extension .m4b. There is no magic to it. If you
manually change the file name of filename.m4a
to filename.m4b, your iPod
will treat the .m4b file as an AudioBook.

How to Convert CDs to an iPod AudioBook - the easier way

  • Open iTunes

  • Set the iTunes encoder options for importing Audio Tracks

    • Import Using: AAC Encoder

    • Setting: Custom

    • Stereo bit rate: 64 kbs

    • Sample Rate: Auto

    • Channels: Mono

    screen shot

    screen shot

  • One at a time put each CD into your computer and do the following:

    1. Click on the CD icon on the left side of the screen so that you can see the contents of the CD

    2. Select (highlight) all of the tracks on the CD

    3. Click on Advanced->Join CD Tracks. This tells iTunes that when you rip (import) the CD it should make one track out of the entire CD

    4. Right click on the file in iTunes and choose "Convert to AAC" or click "Import on the top right of iTunes

    5. Using a file browser, find the file in the "iTunes Music" directory that iTunes made in step #3.

    6. Rename the file from .m4a to .m4b.

    7. From iTunes, select the old file you imported in step #3 and the file that was created in step #3 and delete them.

    8. Import the newly .m4b file into iTunes. (drag & drop from the file browser should work)

Congradulations! You have created and iTunes audio book!

Elmer's Glue?

This morning Alex took a glue stick out his arts and crafts draw. He walked over to show it to me saying, "See daddy, see?" I asked him "Is that Elmer's Glue?" He smiled and said "No, It's mine."


House Project: kitchen light

I completed another house project this weekend. The light over the kitchen table has now been replaced and it has a warmer family friendly feel...

Before: A standard Home Depot no frills light.

After: A much cooler chandelier that draws pretty women and cats!


House Projects: before and after

The past few weekends have been Russell Home improvement weekends.
The goal is to finish up as many big house projects as possible before our son is born...
I call him "Our second son" or "He who can not be named" because we haven't
settled on a name yet.

The Front Yard

The first project was our front yard. We used to have two nice piles of
dirt with lots of weeds on either side of our front steps. These have been
replaced with piles of Rosette Marble rocks which I think look a lot nicer than
the dirt. Alex is a huge fan of rocks. When he came downstairs the morning
the rocks were delivered I told him we got him a present and pointed out the window.
He looked for a few seconds and then ran to the front door yelling "Out, out... ROCKS!".
Best present ever...

The before picture is a very cool shot of Christine and Alex, but it
lacks in the "Before picture" sense since it's actually a during. Also, you can't
really see how bad it looked before we started... The fact that we have several
thousand digital pictures, and not a single one shows the front of our house is
suggestive of how bad it was...

Before (actually during):

Christine & Alex installing the faux rock border.

Check out the rock pile in the bottom right... Alex and I shoveled all those


Christine & Alex on the steps in front of the house.

Those litle lamps are solar powered! They just start glowing when it gets dark.

The Attic

The next project was installing flooring in the attic. The attic was filled
with blown insulation... That stuff is great at keeping you warm, but horrible
to work in... Anyway, I purchased 6, 4' x 8', 3/4" boards and carried them up into the attic.
I did the work on a rainy day. With the sun blocked the attic only got up to about 90 degrees.

The first step was to sweep away the excess insulation, then get the boards in
position and screw them down. It got a lot easier once the first few boards went down.


I had the 4' x 8' boards cut in half so I could fit them throught he attic opening.
This pic shows the first two boards. in the bottom right you can see where I had to
cut around a bathroom seiling vent that suck up above floor level.

That is a lot of extra insulation. The pink thing is a board of insulation that
came in handy for cutting boards. Theres also some sheet rock. It came with the house.


This is a picture standing behind the stairs into the attic.
It turns out there is room for 3 more 4' x 8' boards, but that will have to wait until
it cools off again.

Heres a look from the far end of the house. I'm standing at the far
end as shown in the "before" pictures.

So thats it for now. Next I'm installing new light fixtures in our kitchen...

How to make an iPod AudioBook from a CD AudioBook

Update 2005-09-04: I've learned a faster way to make Audiobooks from CDs and posted the directions here.

I recently figured out how to get my CD Audiobooks onto my iPod. It required
a lot of reading and trial and error, so I thought I'd share what I learned.

Simply ripping the CDs to MP3 does allows you to put the CDs on your iPod,
but you miss out on some cool stuff.
If you can convince an iPod that a file is an Audiobook, it will give
you a really cool set of features such as:

  • Pick up where you left off (even if you listen to something else in between)

  • Listening at 2x or 1/2x speed

  • Access the audio book through the Audiobook menu (No need to create a playlist)

The important concept:
An iPod AudioBook is an
(iTunes gives these files the file extension .m4a) encoded sound file
that has the file name extension .m4b. There is no magic to it. If you
manually change the file name of filename.m4a
to filename.m4b, your iPod
will treat the .m4b file as an AudioBook.

How to Convert CDs to an iPod AudioBook

  1. Rip the CDs to mp3 format

  2. Combine the mp3 files into one big file

  3. Re-encode the mp3 file to an AAC format

  4. Rename the AAC encoded file to be filename.m4b

  1. Rip the CDs to mp3 format

  2. Goal: Get the audio off the CDs and into a format that can be merged
    into a single file (step #2) and later be merged into a single
    audio file (step #3).

    What to do:

    • Get a piece of software that will allow you to rip a CD to mp3.
      I used CDex.
      It works well and its free!

    • Set the encoder options for ripping the
      Audio Tracks (Options->Settings->Encoding)

      • Encoder: Lame MP3 Encoder

      • Version: MPEG II.5

      • variable bit rate: yes

      • Bitrate min 8 kbps

      • Bitrate max 160 kbps

      • Quality: Voice

      • VBR method:VBR-New

      screen shot

    • Rip each of theCDs in your AudioBook to your hard drive.

    Notes: The important point is to choose settings such that the audio quality
    sounds VERY good to you. The goal is to get a very goos quality mp3 so that
    re-encode the audio in step #3 results in a good quality sound.
    The mp3 file size doesn't matter (so, bigger is better here) because step #3 will result in the
    same size AAC file no matter what size file you get from this step.

  3. Combine the mp3 files into one big file

  4. Goal: Make one big file out of the AudioBook mp3s.


    • MP3 Merger is a simple tool for merging mp3s together.

    • MP3 Book Helper is a helpful tool for bulk renaming lots of mp3s. If the files you?re merging aren?t named such that they sort well in MP3 Merger, this tool makes it easy to rename the files. It?s a very powerful tool, but it takes some getting used to.

    What to do:
    • Merge (in their intended play order) the mp3 files from step #1 into one big mp3 Audio File.


    • I have read that older iPods have some issues with large > 120Mb files. As a guideline I try to keep each audio book to 6 hour parts. I've found that iPods can behave strangely with bigger files. If the audio book is longer than 6 hours, create multiple parts. Good luck.

    • There is no magic to this step. It's basically the same as calling cat to concatenate all the mp3s together.

  5. Re-encode the mp3 file to an AAC format

  6. Goal: get one step closer to what your iPod considers an audiobook.

    What to do:

    • Drag the .mp3 file from step #2 into iTunes

    • Set the iTunes encoder options for importing Audio Tracks

      • Import Using: AAC Encoder

      • Setting: Custom

      • Stereo bit rate: 64 kbs

      • Sample Rate: Auto

      • Channels: Mono

      screen shot

      screen shot

    • Right click on the file in iTunes and choose "Convert to AAC"

    If you used variable bit rate like I suggested in Step #2 iTunes will tell you that it estimates the conversion process to take ~60 days. The iTunes countdown timer is confused because iTunes doesn't really understand how to estimate the length of variable bit rate mp3 files. Not to worry. This will use a lot of computer power, and you should just leave your computer alone for a bit. Go get yourself a coffee or beer & come back in 20 minutes. If its still going, give it another 20 minutes.

  7. Rename the AAC encoded file to be filename.m4b

  8. Goal: make an audio book out of thin air.

    What to do:

    • Using a file browser, find the file in the "iTunes Music" directory that iTunes made in step #3.

    • Rename the file from .m4a to .m4b.

    • From iTunes, select the old file you imported in step #3 and the file that was created in step #3 and delete them.

    • Import the newly .m4b file into iTunes. (drag & drop from the file browser should work)

    Congradulations! You have created and iTunes audio book!

This worked for me.
Before you start recycling your CD
AudioBooks I suggest you test to make sure your satisfied.
If you learn anything helpful, add a comment.
For more
detail check out the
iPod Lounge.
I found a lot of good information there.


Blizzard of '05 - We apologize for the inconvenience

I would like to apologize to everyone that tried to contact me or expected to meet with me yesterday. While I'm not one for excuses, this one is too good not to share.

My wife and I went away for an anniversary weekend to a bed and breakfast in Provincetown, Cape Cod. We were scheduled to return home on Sunday morning. The news was reporting a snow storm, but the local weather said that it would be over by 6 AM (we assumed Sunday).

What actually happened was that it snowed from 3 PM Saturday to 3 AM Monday with hurricane winds (~60 mph) the entire time. The National Guard closed all the highways leaving the cape. When the snow and wind stopped on Monday we tried to leave, only to find out that we were parked in a town lot, and the town was not planning to clear the lot of snow for a few days. We attempted to get one of the 3 Back End Loader drivers to help us out, but the National Guard needed them to clear stranded cars off the main road. National Guardsmen can be very persuasive. So, desperate to get home to our families and jobs, a few of us borrowed some hand shovels and dug our way out. All of the moved snow was done by 4 men and 3 women with hand shovels over the course of 4 long hours. There were no snow blowers or plows... Actually, about 3 hours into it a plow did come by and pretty much filled in all of the work we had done on the road.


This is a picture of my wife Christine standing the road next to the entryway to the parking lot we were parked in. In case you're wondering, that sign next to her says "Emergency Snow Route. No Parking. Tow Zone In Event of Snowfall" We thought that was a good thing, but it turns out that the back end loaders that drive up this street don't plow it.


This is a better view of the only exit out of the parking lot. If you follow the line of trees on the right you'll see a small sign with a 'P' on it. That is how far back we have to go before we can turn into the parking lot.


7 people, 5 hand shovels (one of them a children's shovel) and 4 hours.

Actually we cleared about 4 times this because we had to get all the cars out
of the lot; then we had to clear the road that my wife was standing on in the first picture (~ 50 yards).

We would have taken more pictures, but the camera kept shutting off due to the cold.


This was the last picture Christine took as she drove the car out of the lot.
All of those who shoveled are planning a reunion dig for next year.


First Blog Post

I just read on slashdot that Iranian ISPs have been ordered to block a large number of popular Web sites, including weblogging, community, chat and email services. This blogging phenomenon has been around for a long time in web terms and I never really understood what was so interesting about it. So, I figured I'd give it a try since I'm lucky enough to be able to reach this site. On a happier note, here is a picture of a rubber duck I found using google's image search.

By the way, if your new to this "BLOG" is short for web log...