Conner's Birthday and School Visit

Conner's Self Named 'Thinking Face' I can hardly believe it. Conner is 4!

This year on Conner's birthday I spent the day at school with him. They have this thing called "Circle time" where they sit in a constantly moving shape that can only be described as not quite a circle.

At Conner's birthday circle time the kids were asked to name one thing for which they were thankful. As they went around the room there was a clear pet theme. Cats, dogs, snakes etc. Katie, a friend of our family, broke the cycle and did her family proud by saying she was thankful for Mom and Dad.

As we continued around the circle the kids got back to their pet theme and we heard about more cats and hamsters... Until we got to Conner. Conner, ever the pragmatist, was thankful for "The Bathroom." Man that kid is funny.  Nothing makes me laugh quite like Conner.

His favorite activity these days is building Lego space ships. We've been doing this a lot lately, and when we're not working on one together he's usually off creating a new ship complete with a story to explain its origins and future adventures.

Left to his own devices he can sit and do puzzles and build ships for an eternity; his face a mask of  concentration.  And when he plays with others his smile and enthusiasm are contagious.  He just seems to love life and in doing so he makes life more fun for me.

Here's a quick video montage of a few of Conner's adventures this year.

Video of Conner Year 4

* The picture above is what Conner calls his "Thinking Face."  I laugh every time he makes this face.

Allison's Room Demolition

The latest in a string of home projects is renovating Allison's Room.   I was motivated to get it done because he has a brown carpet in her room that was so old it was disintegrating and giving off a bad plastic smell.

So we decided pull up the floors, paint the walls and of course give the windows my father's Craftsman window frame treatment as seen in the bathroom and dining room.

As I started pulling up the floors I realized that this is the sort of activity I often tell my boys to stop doing.  So I called Alex into the room, handed him a crow bar and stood back...

Video of Alex Pulling up Subfloor I

He made short work of the floor.


I'm starting to understand why sons were so desired in places manual labor is a way of life. They really are helpful.

Video of Alex Explaining The Job

I ended up doing most of the vacuuming until Allison decided she wanted to try.  I've never seen anyone enjoy demolition cleanup like she does.


Conner was sick when we were tearing up the room, but he did help me paint a few days later. More on that in a future post.

More pictures of the destruction are in our Allison's Room Demolition flickr set.

Backyard Fall Colors

We had a great season for leaf colors this year. And we didn't have to go far. These are a few pics from our backyard.



This is the view directly over the kids swing set.

Quince Tree and more

Some more of this years pics are in our Fall Colors flickr set.

The Wile E. Coyote House Maintenance Methodology

A few months ago, a raccoon started frequenting our back deck. It started when we didn't clear the table after dinner and he snuck in through a broken screen and helped us out.

Video of Raccoon on our Back Deck

Video of Raccoon on our Back Deck Table

So I repaired the screens and he stopped frequenting our dinner table.

And then I noticed that our bird feeder had fallen off its' hook and broken open. I didn't put 2 and 2 together at first. I actually thought the wind had blown it off the hook which is fairly ridiculous considering it survived every weather event last year including the ice storm of 2008.

With and Without Ice
The bird feeder before and after the ice storm

Then one night I saw the raccoon out our kitchen window, and boy do I wish I'd had a camera. He climbed up the tree, reached down and grabbed the bird feeder, lifted it up off the hook, looked up, made eye contact with me, smiled (yes that giant rodent smiled), and then he dropped the bird feeder 15 feet. It promptly burst open, he sauntered down the tree and proceeded to eat the bird seed.

For a few days I toyed with a  Wile E. Coyote-esque response... Something involving dynamite or a catapult. But then I started having visions of me, standing on my roof, pulling a stick out from under a boulder only to have it defy gravity, roll up my roof and smoosh me.

In the end I had to use a carabiner to attach the bird feeder to the tree.  It takes a little more effort to refill, but I didn't have to go to the hospital and it's saving us a fortune in bird seed.


Paul J Russell Masters Diploma On June 4th, 2009 I graduated from Harvard University with a Masters in software engineering for the field of information technology.

When I started, my naive assumption was that I'd learn little in the process of getting the degree, but it would be good for my resume.  Its' value on my resume remains to be tested, but the many things I learned in the process of getting this degree have been immensely useful.

There is simply no substitute for implementing a SQL parser in C to make you realize that C is the wrong language in which to author a SQL parser.

I distinctly remember a beautiful spring day when Alex and Christine were playing in our front yard and I was having trouble concentrating on that SQL parser code. The lure of fun was very strong much, but I had to get my homework done.  The house was new and we didn't have curtains yet, so I nailed a comforter to the window. There it stayed till I finished the database class. A full time job and a kid (now 3 kids) doesn't leave much time for school.

I lost most of that spring, but I got an A. And despite that rather ridiculous SQL Parser assignment, which was only made worse by the professor's parting comment that they "Probably wouldn't bother with it next year because it was a waste of time", there were loads of valuable lessons at Harvard. The work I did there helped shape the way I think about software and I'm surprised by how well the instincts I developed there serve me every day.

Literally Making Money On Education

I work for Cisco Systems which provided me a great tuition reimbursement program.

Cisco asks that I note the following -"Opinions expressed here and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not those of Cisco."

The way tuition reimbursement works, I pay the tuition up front, and as long as I get a good final grade, they cut me a check for the tuition after the class ends. While there were a few side costs such as the $100 printing and binding cost for my Masters Thesis, Cisco basically picked up the tab for my education with the exception of the interest I lost on having the initial tuition cost tied up.

The geek in me couldn't help but figure out how much my degree had cost.

The chart below tracks my out of pocket tuition costs as compared to an identical investment in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI). On July 23, 2009 my final reimbursement check arrived and it contained $328 more than if I had invested in the DJI. That money is already being put to use on

When this all started my hope was to be able to say I went to Harvard for a few hundred bucks in lost interest opportunity. Unfortunately, the recent collapse of the stock market caused me to make money on the deal.  I'm not begrudging the gain of $328 bucks, but I'd trade it to get 40% of my 401k and the world economy back.  Hopefully the Kiva entrepreneurs put that money to good use.


I didn't attend the graduation ceremony, but I did make a trip into campus to pick up my diploma. It was my own personal graduation ceremony. That day the rain came off and on and it was refreshing to be walking around outside on a weekday.

Graduation giftI walked up the 7 flights of stairs to the Dean's office at 51 Brattle Street and a woman I believe was the Dean's secretary presented me with my diploma. She did it with a lot of flair; took it out of the envelope, read a bit, shook my hand and congratulated me.  It was quite a rush.

There was another piece of paper in there that said I made the Dean's list which came as a complete surprise. I was so busy trying to graduate I actually didn't pay much attention to my cumulative grades.

Afterward I stopped by the Coop and picked up a Harvard window sticker for my car, and a Harvard Key-chain medallion to hang on the now empty bottle of Tullamore Dew gifted to me by my grandmother for graduation. That wasn't my first or last bottle of Tullamore Dew, but it was the best whiskey I've ever tasted.

Star Wars in Concert

Saturday night Christine and I went out on a date.  She made reservations at a fancy restaurant in Boston and when we got there she surprised me with tickets to Star Wars in Concert!

Star Wars in Concert
The orchestra as it appeared from our seats.

Star Wars in Concert was two hours of live Star Wars music, action packed movie scenes, laser light shows and live commentary Anthony Daniels who does an amazing C3PO impression.  We had a blast!

Our Star Wars in Concert flickr set has more pictures from that night.

Most Robust

Alex came up with the idea of having a Lego building contest. He invited a few friends over and each brought a unique creation. Alex assigned Christine and I to judge the entries and award ribbons to the winners.

Christine created these ribbons and my job was to come up with award titles that best matched each of the kids Lego creations.  My favorite award went to Conner.


Pumpkin Pie

This was on the doors step of one of the houses we visited last night.

It made me hungry and eager to know the circumference of that pumkin all at once.