Blog of Stories

There are 35 blog entries within the category of Stories

The St. Louis Treehouse
Story circa February 17th, 2022 | View Post
This is by far my most favorite construction project I've ever worked on. It wasn't especially difficult nor did it take a lot of time. But the joy that came from this project is memorable to me.

Our room in the Iowa house was built with a loft in it. The room wasn't especially suited for a loft, but the owner of the house decided to build one in each room nevertheless. It did create more space and fit the overall quirkiness of the house. It was built by hand, mostly using 2x4s and some pine planks. There was a wooden ladder that we had to climb to get in and out of the bed. It was also fashioned out of 2x4s and literally just balanced against the opening in the loft bottom.

The page of plans I drew up before heading off to gather building materials.
The room had two giant windows in it and given Jordan's nightshift schedule, it was extremely difficult for her to get any good sleep in there during the day.

I drew up some plans one evening, purchased everything I needed at The Home Depot, and got to work on a solution.

I had already ordered some blackout curtains and so I framed out the top of the loft in the same fashion one would frame out a wall. I didn't want to anchor the studs into the wall to ensure I didn't destroy the plaster, and so instead fashioned a base plate from a 2x4 and then ran my vertical support columns off of that. While it had limited anchor points, it seemed to be sound. Normally I'd run a column every 16 inches (per modern building specs), but since it wasn't specifically intended to be structural and to save on a little wood, I ran the columns every 20 inches instead. Once the new wall was framed out, I cut up the blackout curtains and stretched them over the 2x4 studs like a canvas. The canvas was attached to the 2x4 frame using staples. I specifically wanted to ensure that it was easy to break through in the event that we ever needed to escape the room quickly. Regardless, the result was immediately noticeable. The room was entirely dark.

I ran the wiring into the bed area as necessary, setup various lights, and topped everything off with remote controlled switches. The entire area was sealed in with the blackout curtains. I wrapped them around the top portion of the window that also bled into the sleeping area. I purchased a standard VESA mount at the store and mounted our TV inside of the loft off of one of the vertical 2x4 columns. Of course we had a small bag of remote controls on our bedside.

A photo taken from halfway up the ladder where you can see the "upstairs" and "downstairs"
Finally, there was a hole where the ladder was designed to allow us to climb up into the loft.

This let a good deal of light through and so it needed to be fixed. I fashioned up a small hatch door, attached it to a counter-weighted pulley system, and voila, our treehouse was born.

It provided the dark quarters Jordan needed for sleeping and was probably about the most enjoyable little escape you could find in a home. To make it feel a little bit larger, I purchased a bunch of rectangular mirrors from Lowe's and had them fastened to the walls within the treehouse. This gave the illusion that the treehouse went on for infinity and beyond and made all of the colored lights look especially cool. Jordan had also purchased me a few different lights, one for Christmas and one just because. I fashioned these into the area and the illusion was complete. We had tons of fun up there for the few months it existed.

As the lease was coming up, the treehouse needed to be taken down. I didn't help with this process and instead Jordan took it apart by herself.

Purchasing the mirrors we needed for the treehouse walls

Jordan and I in the finished treehouse

My Magical Birthday Present
Story circa March 25th, 2013 | View Post
For my recent 34th birthday, a friend of mine got me what may very well be the coolest birthday present I've ever received.

She asked me if I wanted to join her for a drink on the Sunday after my birthday up at the Iron Cactus (a local Austin Mexican restaurant with a sizable bar). I said I'd love to and showed up at the requested time. The place was completely empty save for the bartender and maybe 3 other patrons. We had a drink or three and before long I noticed a guy moseying around the bar wearing all black. He greeted the few other people in the bar before coming up to the two of us and introducing himself. I was a little caught off guard, but he soon introduced himself as a magician who frequented the Iron Cactus and asked if he could perform some illusions for us.

I excitedly told him he absolutely could and that I loved magic. He began his little show. They were really, really good! In fact, he was just an all-around spectacular performer and I was shocked that this guy would be doing rounds at a nearly-empty bar. After two or three different feats, he apologized and asked if he was interrupting anything. I told him no, and that the lady sitting with me thoroughly enjoyed magic as well. He continued.

After two more illusions (both which were even more phenomenal than the previous ones) he started chuckling a bit and asked my friend if he could tell me. I had absolutely no idea what was going on here. Once the wheels started turning, I look over to her and exclaimed, "You got me a magician for my birthday?!"

At this point the magician chimed in and pointed out that not only did she get me a personal magic show, but for the next hour and a half, Cody the Magician would be showing me HOW to perform the illusions he had just performed for us. I was truly overjoyed with this as I have always wanted to learn how to perform some basic magic. It was just awesome and I could not have been more surprised. I even got to have an intelligent conversation with him about some of my world favorites, most notably Derren Brown, Ricky Jay, and Jason Latimir.

Once he left we practiced one of the card tricks for about an hour before heading off to a party. Twenty minutes in, we performed that card trick to a handful of people and left them completely stunned. I have now successfully pulled off ONE impressive card trick.
The Milk Bath
Story circa November 28th, 2010 | View Post
In the fall of 2010, I was working on a large contract project in southern Oregon. I loved the company, I loved my coworkers, and I most especially loved traveling to southern Oregon.

As is common with these types of contracts, the contracting firm provided me with a daily stipend. It was high. I think they gave me $75.00 per day. This might not seem like a ton of money, but when breakfast is provided at your hotel and an average lunch costs maybe $12, finding a way to spend $63.00 every night in a small town becomes an interesting adventure.

Many of the other contracting companies made their employees a deal whereby they could get paid in cash, albeit a lesser amount. I asked my firm if they would allow this. Instead of providing me with a reimbursable per-Diem of $75, I asked if they could just pay me $45 in cash. If they had, I'd have been motivated to spend less money, they would have spent less money on me, and both of us would have financially benefited. They turned this down.

I had recently read about how Cleopatra use to enjoy milk baths. The idea of this intrigued me. There is lactic acid in milk and evidently soaking one's skin in this acid provides a very strong exfoliation.

I began stopping at the grocery store after work and would pick up a few gallons of milk; I had a large refrigerator in my hotel suite. After several days of this I had an entire refrigerator full of creamy whole milk.

After I'd accumulated between 12-15 gallons of it, I drew some piping hot water into the base of the bathtub and proceeded to fill it with all of the milk I had accumulated. The hot water was just to make the bath comfortable since the milk was so cold.

It turns out that taking a milk bath is incredibly relaxing. The milk leaves a thin coat on your skin each time you lift a part of your body out of the tub. I have no idea how the exfoliation process actually works, but I do know that my skin felt silky smooth after the bath.

I haven't appended the Wikipedia article yet, but it is a fact that in addition to Cleopatra and Elizabeth I of England, Kevin Ludlow has also indulged in a milk bath.

I would highly recommend it.
The Crash of my Suzuki
Story circa April 10th, 2009 | View Post

A view of the cracked radiator and broken handlebars from my crash
I've been getting asked by lots of people so I thought I'd just add a little note about my recent incident. As it happened, yes, I was in a motorcycle accident on Wednesday night. I suppose fortunately (depending on your POV), the worst part of the crash was the damage to my bike.

I was only about 1-2 miles from my house headed up to Fry's, and fortunately wearing my boots, jeans, jacket, and as always my helmet. I was probably traveling at about 40-45 mph (the speed limit is 45) and there were three cars in front of me. Two of them evidently slammed on their brakes to make a left hand turn into an apartment complex. Technically you're not supposed to turn there, but there is no sign and admittedly, everyone uses the turn (myself included). Regardless, the Ford Explorer in front of me was forced to slam on his brakes sending his car into a screeching halt, smoke off of the wheels and that whole show.

I had been keeping a pretty reasonable distance behind him and as soon as I heard/saw his tired screeching to a halt I immediately started applying pressure the brakes. **bear in mind this next part all happens in a few brief seconds** I applied gentle pressure at first but quickly realized I just wouldn't stop in time. Likely a little panicked, I squeezed harder on the brakes, something you really shouldn't do on a motorcycle - but my options were pretty limited. This threw the bike into a tail skid and pretty much sealed my fate.

Evasive as I could be, I turned the wheel hard left to minimize impact, but still wound up smashing into the back left part of his Ford Explorer. ...turns out that steel is very hard =]

It's a bit of a blur, but part of me hit the side of his Explorer. I flipped over the handle bars, the bike crashed to the ground, and I landed on the pavement more or less in the fetal position with engine coolant pouring all over my legs. I was laying there for awhile (possibly knocked out briefly) until I started hearing people screaming to call 911 and all of that. I'm sure nobody could tell since it was already dark out, but I opened my eyes and saw some people standing over me. Even though I knew they were there, for whatever reason I just closed my eyes and laid there a little while longer. I was surprisingly comfortable laying against the pavement. It was the sound of sirens that eventually got me moving.

After what seemed like minutes but was likely seconds, I stood up (to the contrary recommendation of most onlookers) and observed the scene. I hated that I was blocking traffic (and didn't want to get a ticket) and so I picked up my motorcycle and walked it off of the street and sat it against the sidewalk. There was a grass field there and I hobbled over and sat down. There were four women helping me and they were all very nice.

All in all there were 6 police cars, 2 firetrucks, and 1 ambulance. It took me a few minutes, but I was able to get them all to go away - I just had to actively refuse treatment. Turns out that telling them you're uninsured is a GREAT way to do this.

Tracy came over and took me to the ER about an hour later but ultimately had to refuse treatment for the price. Clearly battered, bruised, and a little bloody, the nurses were angry that I would rather save what I was told would be upwards of $5000.00 than be treated for a serious motorcycle accident. I very calmly and politely explained to them I didn't need an emergency room and all of that, I just needed a caring doctor to take some X-Rays of my leg, wrist, shoulder, back, and neck. They said this just wouldn't be possible and that I'd have to pay the full price of admission. I looked at them, took a deep breath, and said - "ok, well thanks anyways" as I hobbled my bloody body out of the intake room.

Instead Tracy drove me around looking for all night clinics until about 1:30 in the morning when I finally decided to give up. We just went to Kirby Lane and had a late night meal, my leg dragging off behind me.

Finally, I got up in the morning (woken by my brother and a friend insisting I go to the hospital) and Mike took me to a regular clinic. The full exam and 11 X-Rays wound up costing me just $252 and it turns out there isn't a single thing wrong with me (serious anyways). My right knee is pretty swollen, but should be okay and I'm otherwise just sore as all could be.

Thanks for the well wishes and I'm looking forward to fixing my bike =]
The Sprint Password
Story circa December 9th, 2008 | View Post
Towards the end of 2008, I decided it might be time to stop using Spring as my carrier and jump on a network that would offer me a smartphone and a reasonable data plan. I spoke with AT&T regarding the iPhone, but their top tier service was really expensive (upwards of $160 per month - ridiculous). T-Mobile was offering all sorts of deals on the newly released Google G1, a phone that I preferred anyways, and so I was convinced to go with it.

However, the truth of the matter was that I didn't really have any particular problem with Sprint, had a pretty good and grandfathered price plan, and didn't want to go through the hassle of switching providers. Sprint had been offering a hybrid smartphone (not really a smartphone, but it had reasonably good data processing on it) and I thought I could simply negotiate for a better deal with them using AT&T and T-Mobile as my ammunition.

I called their customer service and as expected, they started asking me for all of my personally-identifying information such as my name, address, date of birth, and etc. Once this concluded, they asked me the answer to my "secret question". Evidently that question was "What is your favorite hobby?". This was an awful question to ask me because I have so many hobbies and couldn't for the life of me remember what it was. The guy was really cool about it and said to give it a go, so I started listing off hobbies that I thought might be unique to me.

"Playing the guitar? Flying airplanes? Riding motorcycles? Software developing? Singing? Writing?"

It went on for about a minute or so and I probably went through almost twenty hobbies of mine. At this point I really could have been anybody rattling of hobbies. The guy finally stopped me and said he would take a look, but without saying anything else just started laughing somewhat out of control. Mind you, I had absolutely no idea what was going on or why he was doing this. He finally asked me if I wanted to know what the answer was to my "secret question". Of course I did.

He responded: "this question can suck my balls".

We had a pretty good laugh about it for a minute. I just kind of shrugged the whole experience off as humorous and was glad the rep was so friendly about it. Unfortunately it did NOT help me to get any sort of better deal despite my best efforts, and so I just settled on T-Mobile.

The Engine Failure
Story circa May 8th, 2008 | View Post
The plan was for a solo XC from AUS->AQO->LZZ->BMQ->AUS. Total time planned was 3.5 hrs (including FSTB, gassing up, and eating lunch). I think the flight was about 160nm round robin.

Preflight was completely normal, oil was just a tick below 5qt, gas looked fine, instruments were okay, and the mags checked out. The left one dropped just slightly below normal so I leaned out the plane for about a minute (per our procedure) and rechecked it. It tested within the norm the second time.

I departed Austin at 17:51Z (a bit behind schedule, but I was okay with this). Very smooth departure and climb. I even got routed over my property and then Mueller, so I was really enjoying my views. I probably reached my planned altitude of 6,500 just after the towers on Hwy 360. I leaned the mixture out as always, waited for the brief drop in RPM and then a few ticks back to the right. Around this time I was switched over to Houston Center for flight following on 134.20.

Climbing past 5,000 feet on my way to a planned 6,500

Around 18:35Z, just getting over the intersection of HWY 281 in Marble Falls and still at 6,500 feet, I noticed the engine was starting to lose power. I couldn't hear it or feel it, but I saw it on the tach. It was dropping about 100 RPM for 1-2 second every 15-20 seconds or so. I just began monitoring it, and after a minute or so alerted Houston Center to my finding. They asked if I wanted to declare any emergency and I said no, I just wanted to say it in case the problem got worse and I needed more attention. They asked me to keep them updated and business was as usual. The problem persisted.

About 2-5 minutes later the problem got worse and I started noticing the engine dropping about 300 RPM for 1-2 seconds every 15-20 seconds with the 100 RPM drops interspersed between those. I immediately alerted Houston Center to the problem with something to the effect of "Houston Center, Cessna 67796. My engine is definitely having problems now, probably going to have to land". They quickly started giving me very close attention and asking if I had power and such. I replied yes, but that the engine was suffering power losses. At this time we established that I was a student pilot on a solo XC. I had already located a bunch of fields by this time and (as HC noted) Horseshoe Bay was just a few miles off to my west (about my 10 o'clock according to Houston). Though I tried to remain calm, I'm sure they could sense some panic in my voice by this time. Still, I kept doing things as needed and now treated the situation as an emergency, assuming that the engine would die at any moment. I went through the emergency checklist though it didn't seem to fix the 300 RPM drops.

I was still communicating with Houston, treating the situation as an emergency, and the problem was still persisting. I definitely had Horseshoe Bay in my sights, just a few miles off to the west and was just a little below my previous altitude. I informed them that the problem was still continuing and that I would be heading for Horseshoe Bay. Though I had them handy, I requested the runway configuration, airport elevation, and the CTAF. All three were given to me. Just as I started my left turn, and about 1 second before my heart would momentarily stop, the engine lost almost compete power.

I can't be sure, but it dropped down to about 1000? 1200? RPM -- basically just above idle -- and held there for a moment before jumping back up. At this point I told Houston that I had a more severe problem and that the engine was probably about to die. They passed me over to Horseshoe Bay and those guys started bringing me in. They cleared out all other traffic and told me either runway was mine for the taking. I was still around 5,800 feet at this time (PA is 2,100), about 3 miles west of the field, and more or less on a perfect left line for a left downwind to runway 35 (the preferred runway was for 17 but surface wind was only about 3 kts, so I stuck with 35).

I told Horseshoe Bay that I would be making a long extension of my downwind in order to lose my excess altitude. I probably went about twice as far as normal before turning base (doing the best I could to calculate all of the differences quickly in my head). The engine seemed to be working with me at this point, but I was also making a lot of adjustments to it, so hard to know for sure. I turned base still a bit too high, but plenty far out. On final I quickly got down to a good altitude, slowed enough for flaps and added a notch. The other two notches came in at my discretion as I basically was landing by 'feeling it out'.

I put it down on 35 and it was actually a really nice, smooth, and otherwise uneventful landing. Taxiing didn't seem to be much of an issue either. The guy waved me to a spot and was happy to see me. We called Houston Center immediately to let them know, and also Flight Service to alter and close my flight plan.

N47796 on the ground at Horseshoe Bay after my failed engine