Exeter Energy

Last Friday, we were honored to host a Phillips Exeter Academy meet and greet for prospective Exeter students and their parents.  It was a marvelous evening getting to talk about the school that has affected our lives so much, and to meet with others that are currently going to the school, have gone to the school, work at the school, and are considering going to the school.  But before we get into that I want to reflect how Exeter has changed and will most likely change my life.

A year ago, at about this time I was driving the streets of Exeter with Stephen, my oldest son.  We had elected to do the prospective student interview on campus.  We had the option of doing it in Houston, but had weighed the two options and decided on campus was the best way to go.  Exeter stresses that there is no difference between on vs. off campus interviews.  It does not give you an advantage from their point of view.  But I believe it does from ours.  First, I wanted to see the campus.  Second, doesn’t it make your interview stronger to say, “I’ve seen the school, and it looks like a good fit for me?” instead of saying it looks great on paper.  Third, doesn’t it speak to the commitment that is being made to travel all the way to campus for the interview thereby showing how important this is to us?

Exeter was more than I imagined.  The campus is huge and beautiful.  And is a wonderful community of students.  I was amazed at how alive our tour guide was, and I wished the same for my children.  I had to confess to the interviewer that the place felt a little magical and reminded me of Hogwarts from Harry Potter.

It was during this trip that I got a follow up call from Surya about the HP job.  And it was largely the cost of the school and the regular paycheck of HP that pushed me into taking it.  (Though I still feel I would have made more in real estate.)

After the time in Exeter, we went to Boston.  I have always liked Boston.  I have often dreamed about how nice it would be to live there with MIT and Hardvard there, the startups, the hackerspaces, and the subway.  (Unlike most Texans, I actually would like to be able to get around without having to drive.)

It was a month later that we got the acceptance letter.  And it was in March of last year that I started my new job at HP.  Around that time I also found myself in a prospective student meeting at the Ross’ house here in Houston.  It was there that my wife and I were thinking and asking all the same questions that we heard this past Friday.  What is it like?  Is it worth it?  Is it safe?  Are we sending our son out to the world a little too early?

It was that summer that my mother decided that the situation required her special attention.  She hopped in a car, drove the 2,000 miles to Exeter, rented an apartment, bought furniture, and began looking for a job.  She also did some advanced checking of the campus by driving around on a regular basis.  It was only a day or two before her out of state license’ plate and special interest in the school was noticed by the Exeter police, and she soon had company on her daily trip. 

We went up in September to visit her, and get Stephen installed in school.  It was a powerful mix of excitement at the opportunity, worry of rather this was the right decision or not, and sadness that this seemed to mark a definite turning point when Stephen would be branching out on his own.  It was great to meet the other parents, the teachers, his advisor, and the staff.  They all did a good job of making us feel that this was the best thing to do.

A month later in October we went back for parent’s weekend.  We got to attend his classes, meet with his teachers, see many of the activities and benefits they have on campus.  (One of the things I really liked was the modern dance and ballet routine that they have.  Personally I think dance should be a required course.  Actually, I think a little of everything should be required.)  I like the PE program where each semester they have to take 3 sports.  This time around Stephen was exposed to crew, fencing, and squash.  While he liked all three, it looks like squash is going to have the longest effect.

In November he was home for Thanksgiving.  And in December he came home for Christmas.  At the end of the break we had the meet and greet, and we were able to provide some informed answers to the types of questions that were similar to the ones we had not so long ago.

What is it like? 

Imagine a place where people like to learn and to explore.  Imagine small classes of 12 or less students where the teacher and students sit at a table and discuss the material.  Imagine a place were new challenges and opportunities are constantly being sought and offered.  That is Exeter.

Is it worth it? 

If you are willing to push yourself, if you are willing to try to become the best you that you can become, then it is worth it.

Is it safe? 

Exeter is a small country town where everyone knows pretty much everyone else.  People keep an eye for each other, and know when something is out of place.  There is a city police and the academy also has their own police department.  And there is a 5 to 1 student to teacher ratio so the students have a lot of supervision.   I feel very confident that it is safe.

Are we sending our son out to the world a little too early?

Yes, it feels that way.  That is why we are heavily considering the possibility of moving to Exter this summer so that next year he can be a day student and live with us.


If you or someone you know is in  or about to be in high school, then I would recommend that you at least explore Phillips Exeter Academy at exeter.edu.

Nathan & Christopher go to SpaceCityCon in Galveston, TX

Space City Con is a Sci-fi, comic, fantasy, game conference that is currently being held in Galveston, TX.  My youngest son, Christopher and I went today and had a blast.

It was held at the Moody Garden Hotel and Convention center.



We saw all sorts of things.  Here is a sampling:



We met many creative people. 

Brian Parker who wrote a zoombie novel called Gnash and Self-Publishing the Hard Way, and some other books.


There were all sorts of characters there including people from Dr. Whol 


And all sorts of neat stuff for sell.

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Christopher of course was on the prowl for comic books.  That was his main motivation for going.  But there were only about 4 vendors selling comic books.20140104_123554 20140104_125822

Chris Chomiak from Bedrock City comics was very helpful.  He said to just email him what we were looking for and he would have it sent over to the location on FM 1960 near our house. 

Somebody pulled the fire alarm.  We all had to excite the building and the fire department came.  No reason for alarm.


There was an interesting caution sign.  I think they mean for it to indicate that pedestrians might be hit by a car.  but I can’t help thinking that turning on your left blinker might make people dance around.  Take a look and let me know what you think.


Saw a person with a minon backpak and one with an evil minon backpack.


We also met Jason Poland who publishes Robbie and Bobby about a Robot and his boy.



And we met Emily Rose who is an artist.  You can see some of her art on her website Death’s Pale Horse.


There were characters from Mario which were going around playing Mario music.  They also took time out to play with light sabers.  (Anything can  happen at these conventions.)

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We also got a Super man minon drawing from Robert James Ludeke.




There was a room dedicated to playing all sorts of games.  I do not know much about these, but the boards looked really interesting

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There were a lot of people dressed up.  Here is a person dressed as the Joker from Batman.20140104_160318


We did end up playing Zombicide .  It was really fun.  And it was a collaborative game instead of a competitive one.  All the players were against the zombies and we were helping each other and interacting in very mutually supportive ways.  I definitely recommend it.

I understand that it started out on Kickstarter and was a big success.


We made one last trip to the exhibit hall and met up with two more creative people:  Matt Gordon & Jessie Jordan.


We also met Bruce Small who wrote Transyltown.


Here are just a few things we bought while we were at the convention:


Some of the bumper stickers were really good:



Christopher can’t wait to go to the next one.  And I am looking forward to it too.


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Successfully printing bigger pieces


Reducing the bed temp to 45 degrees Celsius has kept the plastic parts from coming ip from the bed. I think it is becaise the heat bed’s temp sensor is poorly placed and that this compensates for it.

3D Printer finally together and extruding


On August 18, 2011, I ordered a Prusa Mendel 3D printer kit from MakerGear.  I had seen a 3D printer at TX/RX Labs, the Hackerspace/Makerspace in Houston, TX.  It was an amazing machine.  I had seen videos, but there is something about seeing one in person, holding items produced by them, and talking to people that actually have used them to produce things.

The day I got the kit, I went through the physical build.  Everything except for the platform.  It was at that point the words “STRONGLY RECOMMEND: Mark & drill the Y-carriage mounting holes on the wood base BEFORE building the Y-carriage” from the Maker Gear instructions really made sense.  Then I realized I would have to take apart a good part of it to put the table on.  Also, I was having some challenges learning how to put together the extruder and hot end.  Not to mention all the wiring, power supply and electronics.  

After working on it for a few more days, I ended up letting it sit for a while.  Then every few months I would pick it back up.  December of 2012 I remember telling my family that it would be finished before Christmas, then before my birthday (just after Christmas), then by New Years (just after my birthday).  But there were some challenges that I could not work through.

This past fall I went to a Microsoft store and saw the MakeBot 3D printer.  At just over $2,000, I really thought about buying it and walking out of the store with it.  My youngest son was very excited about the prospect.  But my wife pointed out how I did have a kit at home, and about how we really didn’t have the additional money to buy one.  All good, but disappointing, points.
I worked on the 3D printer again, and in the process I believed I burned out the power supply (big bolt of lightning and then dead).  And I believed I had burned out some of the stepper motor controllers.  And I was extremely busy with work so no time really to work on it.
And then came December 2013.  My work has a 2 week shutdown at the end of the year.  And this Christmas we planned to stay at home.  So, every morning my youngest son would wake me up and say “Is the 3D printer ready yet.”
We worked on it, and got it moving and melting plastic.  We figured out how the software works, and we made some very basic and crude items.  And we are learning the importance of calibration, eliminating friction, precise alignment, importance of temperature control, and the hundreds of other things you have to do for a good print.
Here is what it looks like:






It works by melting a bit of PLA plastic and building up layer upon layer to get the shape that you want.


Here you can see some of the items that we have made.  All very crude and imprecise. 20140101_231212 20140101_231206 20140101_231203 20140101_231242 20140101_231159


As you can see these are more errors than success.  And in the process of finding answers to the problems, I ran across many other people that have found the skills needed to do the 3D printing are a lot more difficult to develop than one thinks.

“Just because you have a 3D printer doesn’t mean you’re going to make anything remarkable. It doesn’t even mean you’re going to wind up with what you set out to produce. Believe it or not, 3D printing requires some skill. And when you don’t have it, things go delightfully askew.” Leslie Horn  on Gizmodo (gizmodo.com/11-spectacular-3d-printer-failures-511092085)

Flickr group for 3d printing failures: www.flickr.com/groups/3d-print-failures/

“If you buy all the 3D printing marketing campaigns, it’s easy to start believing that 3D printing at home is not difficult at all. All you have to do is make your 3D model on your computer, dump some powder into your 3D printer, and press a button, right? Wrong. 3D printing is not easy and leaves plenty of room for mistakes and errors to be made by rookies.” –Inkpal.com www.inkpal.com/ink-news/3d-printing-at-home-not-easy-mistakes-errors-failures/

How to fix 3D printer issues: www.bilbycnc.com.au/3DPrintingProblems.asp

The good thing is that I have a very good understanding of  how the 3D printer works.  I think once I work through my issues I can print out the plastic components, but the hardware, electronics, and motors, and try making a new one from scratch.


Happy New Year!

“HAPPY NEW YEAR” was the text message I received.  “Thanks!! Happy new year!! Any new year’s resolutions?”  I texted back.

Setting New Years resolutions is a traditional as fireworks (and often just as short lived.)  Setting them is something that we do every year, and often forget by the mid part of January.  We usually think of them at the last moment on Dec. 31st, or when we are asked.  Or it is something that we have been struggling to do for a while and are looking for a way to make progress.

“Be happier — how about you?” is what I got back.

Seems like a good goal.  But how does one “become happier”?  My experience is that trying to be happy is sort of like trying to fall asleep.  The more you focus on it, the less likely it is to happen.  “Happiness is something that happens when you are making other plans” is what my Grandmother used to say.   So, what are the other plans that I plan to make?

“I was thinking of blogging something on gadgetnate.com everday.  I fiture if I have to write something everyday then it would force me to do something worth writing about.”

Or at least force me to look at part of my life, think about it, and put it in a form that would make sense on paper.  So that is my new year’s resolution.  And I hear by designate all you you readers out there my accountability partners to make sure I stay on track.