Book Reviewonomics

We read Freakonomics this week. It presented interesting ways to think about things, but it wasn’t shocking or awe-inspiring. Most disappointing was the final chapter about name choices in which the author decided to list about 500 names (many duplicates). The points could have been made without the long lists of names. The rest of the book was data-lite, so it’s not clear why this chapter was so thorough (to put it politely).

The first chapter was rough. The author presented a bunch of theories with no support. However, the later chapters were used to actually support those theories and thus make the arguments a little more succinct. My favorite chapter was about the inner workings of the crack-cocaine world. I would recommend this book, but be prepared to hear a lot of talk about abortions, which is neither good nor bad, it just is and is a good thing to know going in.


Happy Easter! It was a hectic weekend for us at the 1870 House. First we managed to get the bed up to the house going on back roads with the mattress, box spring, and head board on the roof!

img_20190419_132959.jpgAfter we got the bed all set up we moved out our albino California king snake Victor and our southern spotted softshell water turtle Pancake. So far both fish that were with Pancake are doing well in spite of the rough move. We also got help from David at Portage Lumber in putting our shower back together again. It turns out there was a rubber washer in it that had moved out of place which is why we couldn’t get it working. After buying a couple wrenches we got it all back together. We also replaced the shower curtain.


Bedroom pictures will come later this week or next. After moving some more things into the house, we had Easter lunner at Jose’s Authentic Mexican in Baraboo. It was the closest Mexican restaurant open and the food and atmosphere were both great!

The table had Mexican coins in it!

Since we were in Baraboo, and it was on the way (sort of), we stopped at the free zoo. It was great for the price!

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Finally, over Sunday and into Monday night we had some pretty nerve-wracking flooding in Portage. We were OK; a little water in the basement seems to have seeped in from the rain, but nothing enough to get the sump pump running. In the daytime photo, yes, that is the Wisconsin river right up over the road.

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In other sad news, it is with heavy hearts we say so-long to the Ford Focus. Paraphrasing the great philosopher George Watsky, it’s not about how nice your car looks, it’s about the adventures you have in it. For that, we thank the Focus, RIP Natty Bumppo Jr.

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We had an exciting weekend! It started off seeing this guy fly out of a tree on the drive to the house.


First (after a delicious breakfast buffet at the Town Chef), we finished the upstairs guest bedroom/yoga studio/place where we’ll temporarily be staying until we get our bed up. We went to Menards in Baraboo, which was an adventure in and of itself. The first thing we see as we drive in was a boy peeing behind the fence with his mother standing guard. Apparently the Menards bathroom wasn’t good enough… Anyway, we found the section of carpet remnants (they only come in 12 foot lengths) and loaded a good one onto a small cart. After jousting our way to the register to a very unhappy cashier, we made it through the sea of rude customers back to the car. This is where the ‘only being available in 12 foot sections’ is important. It did not fit quite right, and for whatever reason the Rogue doesn’t have a back window that opens. We tried with the trunk open a bit but it flung all the way open pretty much straight away. So we stopped at the WalMart next store and found some twine. We roped the back door as closed as we could while Tatum held the twine and I held the rug. Somehow we made it back to Portage incident free. However, the carpet would not fit up the stairs, so instead, we loaded it up through the front window. Basically, I stood outside on the ground and hoisted the thing to the window where Tatum grabbed on and pulled in while stopping it from falling back out of the house. It’s amazing no one was really hurt in the process.

After we got the floor down we built a futon which we’ll stay on until we can get the bed up. We also added a telephone table for the lamp, a dresser, and a smart TV so we can finally get our Netflix on now that we have internet! After the upstairs room was finished we went to Portage Lumber (again) to get a hand sander and a pole sander so we could smooth out the downstairs floors before putting the final coat on. When we got back we added Gila film (Waterfall) to the front door windows. Then we sanded which made the floors super smooth and added the final coat of polyurethane. Basically, now that the floors are done, we will start living there full time and after the one week recommended furniture waiting period, we’ll start moving the rest of our big stuff in! The next big project on the list is the kitchen.


House Post 5

It’s the post we’ve all been waiting for! I’ll start with the less exciting things, as to bury the lead. First, we painted the upstairs bedroom a nice grey. It was still sticky about 24 hours after we finished, so we haven’t been in the room since (i.e., no futon yet). Below is a slideshow of the progression of the room, starting with the way it was before we bought the house.

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And here is another picture of the stuff we pulled off the floor:


I tried to install some glass doorknobs… and technically succeeded. We need to get some different screws so they actually fit in the door, but for now they’re functional… and historic (from The Mercantile). Unrelated, but important, we had dinner at Unforgettables, the stuffed mushrooms and burger were great, though they’re known for their endless nacho options and great drink specials. OK, so the big ticket item today was putting polyurethane on the floors! We got one coat down without any problems, the difference from start to finish are incredible. Tomorrow we’ll get two more coats down, it says 4-6 hours to dry, we’ll see. Collage and animation below for floor progress!


Just a shout-out to those who made this project possible: Rich at Do it Best and Portage Lumber for believing in us and MinWax for fast drying polyurethane that’s pretty easy to work with.

House Post 4

The 1870 House is well on its way to being where we want it. Last night, after work, we worked for a few hours on the floor upstairs (and did some laundry!). It was an interesting experience; here’s just a few of the things we found under the baseboard: magazine advertisement for Bazaar, popsicle stick, popcorn kernels, and some clear plastic beads. We first pulled the carpet staples and weird tackboard stuff that held the carpet in along the wall. It wasn’t the easiest task and the boards in the room don’t inspire the highest confidence. Here’s Tatum sweeping a bit and pulling out nails:

After we got the floors de-stapled, de-nailed, swept, and vacuumed, we put down a coat of Kilz. It is quite pungent, but we’ll take that over pet urine! Here is a bit of a before and after/during. I didn’t get a good picture of the whole completed room since there’s no overhead light in that room and we took the lamp out before we finished (no painting ourselves into corners!).

Tonight or tomorrow we’ll put down a coat of floor paint, then once that dries we plan to get a carpet remnant for the room to function as a big rug. That will pretty much be it! Oh, there was a lot of head hitting since the ceiling is sloped with the roof, so we’re going to be sure to get furniture in the low bits to prevent future headaches! It’s exciting to have one room almost completely done! Plans for this weekend include getting internet hooked up, vacuuming the floors now that the dust has settled from sanding, putting down polyurethane, and maybe getting some of the basement cleaned up so dirty ducts can cover up the last bits of asbestos down there. We don’t have much in the basement, but the four chairs we bought from the ReStore are right under where they’d need to work, so we’ll have to move those. Look for another update soon!

House Post 3

The house is starting to look really good, and expose all it’s hidden quirks. If you haven’t seen the movie The Money Pit with Tom Hanks, it’s a good watch while going through this process. Anyway, as far as money pit things are related, first we tried to close the curtains and they fell off the wall. Second we unplugged the dryer from the wall and the plug box just came right off the wall. Third, I was closing the curtain of the shower gently (it never felt real secure) and the shower fell apart. Finally, the upstairs carpet smelled a bit off, so we steam cleaned it and it got much worse; upon pulling the carpet out we found pet urine stains down to the wood floors and litter everywhere.

IMG_20190405_144913This photo is the floor underneath the carpet upstairs. After cleaning the carpet the smell was unbearable! So we cut the carpet out and threw it out the window. The smell is better; we’re going to prime over the wood and then put a nice grey floor paint over the top. After that we’ll put either carpet remnant or rugs in here to make the room feel cozy.

Over the weekend the majority of our time was spent sanding the hardwood floors of the first floor. People have lots of opinions on floor sanding, it’s quite odd, actually. First, we met Rich at Portage Lumber and Do It Best store. He was super friendly and confident in our ability to knock this out. After that, every single person seemed to have this, “oh, good luck…” vibe going on when we told them about our grand plans. It’s a good thing we met Rich first, because it turns out that sanding floors is not all that difficult. It’s a heck of a workout on your muscles, and it’s difficult to make the edger and the drum sander bits line up quite right, but compared to where the floors started when we moved in, the results are incredible.

We knew the floors were going to look good when we were done, but this is amazing. It took an entire day and killed our backs, but it’s a great way to save about $1,500. We still have to either stain and finish it or just put a polyurethane finish over it (which is the current plan), but once that’s done we’ll be able to start officially moving in!

We got a futon for upstairs, so once we feel back to getting out to Portage again we’ll go ahead and set that bad boy up; that way the guest bedroom can be put together pretty much completely. We’ve been staying in the small room upstairs on an air mattress, hopefully a futon will be a little more comfortable. Tatum also started painting the cabinets so the kitchen is on it’s way to where we want it. Our long term goals are to get a 2 in 1 stand up washer/dryer combo (or move both washer and dryer into the basement) and move the refrigerator to open up some space for a dishwasher.

Finally, two last notes. First, the book sale at the Portage library is May 13-16! The house will be ready for company by then, so you should come visit and we can hit up the awesome library. Second, we found a stamp on the floor grates from Joe Bradford 03. We’re thinking this means the floors were installed (or maybe the heating grates) in 1903, though we haven’t had luck finding anything about Joe Bradford yet.


House Post 2

Last night we got back to the house a bit late. I took some things to the basement and did some raking while Tatum got us dinner from the B&B Hitching Post, they make a mean pulled pork sandwich! Apparently, they also continued the trend of making us think Portage is home of the nicest people you could ask for. We got the bedroom painted a nice grey. We didn’t worry too much with getting it on the ceiling, since we’re going to cover it with bead board someday. Tonight we’re going to do any touch ups that need to be done and then clean all the stuff out, scrape any paint off the floor, and otherwise make the room ready to be sanded. One room down, the rest of the house to go!

Tonight we’ll be working on the kitchen for the most part. I started cleaning the drawers and cabinet doors last night, so we’ll finish cleaning and then put primer over everything in there tonight. I would also like to get primer on the rest of the window sills, but that may be ambitious. Other ambitious plans include steam cleaning 2 of the 3 upstairs rooms to help with the old, pesky cat fur that’s lingering. Tonight’s dinner will be Cousins Subs, since if you spend $15 on an online purchase you get a free Summerfest ticket, and who doesn’t want a free Summerfest ticket (even if it is for a weekday)?

It’s a little hard to see the color of the room without proper lighting, so if we’re back early enough tonight I’ll grab a picture before it gets dark.

House Post 1

We bought a house! It’s a wonderful little home built in 1870 near downtown Portage, WI. The first steps for us yesterday (after we closed!) were to replace the door locks, take off all the cabinet doors in the kitchen, take out all the drawers, and move a large cabinet out of the kitchen into the garage. We took the hardware off the cabinet doors (handles, latches, etc) and spackled the holes; next we will prime and paint them a high gloss white. The drawers and doors are in pretty good shape, but need a little love! We also moved the fridge and cleaned underneath. We added just a few personal touches; a porcelain turtle, a green bean plant, a couple pictures. In the photo below, don’t mind the line on the right 1/3, it’s just the photo, not a tear in reality. The photo is what the cabinets, drawers, and countertop looked like before we started.

House 2.png

Next, we started work on the first floor bedroom. It was in need of a good priming over the doors, window frames and sills, and the walls. We got the heavy duty lead paint masks (the window frames and base boards were lead painted) and primed over all the surfaces of the walls without spilling too much on the floors. Next for that room is a white paint over the doors and windows and a nice grey on the walls. The room looks much bigger now than it did in a forest green, which is an unforeseen little bonus! Again, in the photo below it is not a ghost door, just a side-effect of a photo sphere. The picture below-left is the best example I had of the green color on the walls in the bedroom, and below-right is Tatum getting the trim all primed.

house-3-e1554211675500.png House 1.jpg

Last night was our first night staying in our new home. It was a bit uncomfortable on an air mattress without a sheet, but we made it work! Barkley loved his new house and we can’t wait to bring all the rest of the critters along.

In the next week we plan to: paint, paint, paint, move appliances into the basement, steam clean the upstairs carpet, refinish the beautiful hardwood floors, install some old glass door knobs; rake the yard, and put in a garden. In the week after that we will mostly be waiting for the floors to finish properly drying and perhaps doing some yard maintenance.

In the third week we will be: moving some furniture, replacing the doors, setting up for a fence, and most importantly making it feel like home! Soon we’ll even be ready for visitors!


First Day at the USDA

Yesterday was my first day at the USDA in Dr. Johanne Brunet’s lab at UW-Madison. I’ll be working with bees and alfalfa plants helping to figure out how bee behavior influences the rate of gene flow from transgenic crops into wild plants. I’m going to be learning a ton about gene flow, bees, and alfalfa. For example, honey bees ball up pollen on their hind legs to take back with them. This pollen is used as food and does likely not contribute to gene flow. However, pollen that is stuck to their bodies after visiting transgenic plants can be left behind in wild plants thus resulting in potential gene flow. Different species of bees (especially solitary vs social) behave differently. Some bees randomly search for new flowers to get pollen while others search with some directionality (e.g., East to West). Check out Johanne’s paper about this topic here.

Additionally, plants that are grown in a solution containing glyphosate (an herbicide) respond differently depending on whether or not they are genetically engineered (transgenic). Non-transgenic plants grow without secondary roots and root hairs while transgenic plants tend to grow with secondary roots and root hairs in a solution containing glyphosate. See the great paper by Molly, Fabiana, and Johanne on this process here.

Here’s my artist’s rendition of some of the topics above:



Dante’s Book Review (#2)

OK, so this is going to be a tough year. Some of the books I review this year will be “cheating,” that is to say, they will be very short. I’ve assembled around 20-30 books to read and will be keeping my eyes open for other good books. Today, I will try my hand at writing an appropriate review of Dante’s Inferno. This book is out of my comfort zone, so to speak. It is written as a collection of poems (I think). This particular version contains summaries by John Ciardi before each poem (which serve as chapters, or “Cantos”).

The story starts with Dante awakening on the outskirts of Hell (capitalized as it is in the book). Basically, the book is his adventure with one or two guides through to the center of Hell, which is broken up into 9 circles, with Satan in the middle. I think the point is that the worst crimes against God are closest to the center, but that hardly makes sense. For example, warlords are in the seventh circle, along with those who committed suicide (and actually, suicides are closer to Satan), while Brutus is in Satan’s mouth (ninth circle). It hardly seems fair that a guy that murdered a tyrant should be tortured more than Atilla the Hun. Speaking of which, Atilla is the only non-European our hero meets in his passage through Hell (don’t quote that, but the point is that he meets a very limited number of people, mostly from Italy or Greece, I guess that’s where all the sinners are from).

The outer layer of Hell, if it can be called the outer layer, is made up of people that were basically good. They did no wrong throughout their lives but died before Jesus was born (or perhaps were good for the “wrong reasons”), so that hardly seems fair; withheld from eternal bliss because they were born at the wrong time. Also in this area are unbaptized children; in Hell strictly because they weren’t old enough to not go to Hell. So, we get through the opening of the book where mostly (or completely) good people are being sort of tortured and make our way to the people who were bad. In Hell, the punishments “fit the crimes” in that they are somewhat ironic; for example,  fortune tellers (those that proclaimed to see into the future) had their heads twisted around and walked forever backward (never able to see ahead of themselves). Also in Hell are the titans. Which guard the 9th circle, a giant frozen lake with Satan chewing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.

The big let down of this journey through Hell is the ending, as I find often to be the case. In the beginning of the book, it felt as though Dante was meant to be travelling to Heaven, but the book ends with his ascent out of Hell (which is in the center of the Earth). It also is a bit of a letdown that we don’t get to see what Dante does with all the information he learned in Hell; there are several times where he promises to give fame to someone in Hell in exchange for information from those tortured. Another sort of bizarre aspect of this book is that Dante is kind of a jerk. On more than one occasion he is rude to, lies to, or physically assaults someone being tortured.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to read Dante’s Inferno, but would not recommend it generally. I fell asleep four separate times during the book, so if you are looking for something to put you to sleep, this might be your ticket (I can’t say it won’t give you nightmares, though). My final thought is that this would be an amazing story to bring to life in a virtual reality simulator (like Google Daydream). Alright, see you next time internet!