Synaptic Ellipsis

Despite all the computations, you could just dance to that rock 'n' roll station…

February 16, 2015
by emily

How to remodel your kitchen in 15 easy steps

Once a upon a time there was a kitchen, and it looked like this:
Kitchen 1

This kitchen was probably quite awesome in the 1970s (estimated) when it was installed, but it had reached its end of life. The countertop was warped and rotting, and the cabinets were beginning to disintegrate. The leaf pattern on the upper cabinet doors was a nice conversation piece (Isn’t that leaf pattern… interesting? Is that contact paper? What festive cabinets you have!), but it had to go.

Enter my Mom: a Certified Kitchen Designer with 15 years of experience.

Also my Dad: a handyman hobbyist who loves to build & remodel stuff.

My spouse & I: engineers with a preference for tech and utility.

My Father-in-law and our Best Man: demolition and installation helping hands.

One of our primary goals was to add more countertop and cabinet space. The old kitchen had a blank wall where the previous owner had kept a small table. My spouse & I didn’t see any need for the table, so the wall looked like this:
Kitchen 3
(Our cat, Hines W., is featured in a couple of these photos.)

My dad extended the existing bulkhead across this wall:
Kitchen remodel step 1: build new soffit/bulkhead
We briefly considered ripping out all of the bulkheads, but there was plumbing from an upstairs bathroom, and ductwork for a vent fan hidden inside. So, we decided that in order to stay within budget, this was the better solution.

The next thing we did was rip out the existing tile, which we think had been updated when our house was put on the market. The tile was installed up to the front of the existing cabinets, so the footprint wouldn’t have matched our new plan, and my spouse and I both thought that it always looked dirty, no matter how many times we tried to clean it. MacBeth tile.

Out, Out, damned tile!
Kitchen remodel step 2: remove tile flooring. (Note "festive" upper cabinet removed for step 1.)

Next I removed almost everything from the existing cabinets,
Kitchen Remodel Step 3: Remove (almost) everything from old cabinets.

and demolition started. (No cats were harmed during the demolition of this kitchen.)

(So long, conversation piece cabinets.) We donated the cabinets to Construction Junction, so they may still be available (although CJ almost didn’t take them). Once all of the cabinets had been pulled out, we hired a plumber to move the supply and drain lines for the sink. Then, we tiled the entire floor with slate-patterned porcelain tile.
Kitchen remodel step 4: Tile.

We ordered Crystal Cabinets, which are my mother’s brand of choice. Crystal Cabinet Works is a family-owned company based in Minnesota. When the cabinets arrived, we were relieved that they all fit in our garage:
Kitchen Remodel step 5: Cabinet delivery
Next came a fresh coat of Olympic paint. The color is, “Cold Steel”.
Kitchen Remodel step 6: Paint
Once the paint had dried, we started installing the upper cabinets. Here’s my mom posing with her creation-in-progress:
Kitchen Remodel Step 7: Upper cabinets (featuring my Mom, the designer)

These cabinets were installed on the new bulkhead – hooray! They are Current Frameless cabinets in Alder with a Midland Door and a Toasted Rye finish.

Next we started on the lower cabinets. Two of these cabinets were very bulky and heavy: the lazy susan and the pantry. The lazy susan almost didn’t make it though the doorway into the kitchen, but we made it work. Our installation helping hands almost didn’t make it up the stairs while carrying these cabinets, but we made them work too (ha-ha… thanks guys!). It should be noted that we fed them filet mingon afterwards.

Here’s my dad standing in front of the lazy susan, holding a hammer that I borrowed from him for about 15 years:
Kitchen remodel step 8: lower cabinets ( featuring my Dad the chief installer).
Next we installed the built in microwave, which I am still very excited about:
Kitchen remodel step 9: long-awaited built in microwave! (Protective plastic will come off later.)

I splurged on a double oven electric range with lots of buttons:
Kitchen remodel step 10: new electric range
We hired an electrician to upgrade all of the electrical circuits and install GFCI outlets:
Kitchen remodel step 11: upgrade electrical
I splurged again on a counter-depth refrigerator with all of the doors:
Kitchen remodel step 12: Fancy refrigerator
My spouse had to re-level the still-ornery lazy susan before this quartz countertop could be installed, but it was worth it:
Kitchen remodel step 13: quartz countertop!
The countertop is Eternia Quartz, “Stardust”.

Next we installed cabinet hardware… and were informed that our dishwasher was backordered. Luckily our cool Kohler undermount sink was operational by then. We had been washing our dishes in the basement up until this point, so having a sink on the first floor was a big upgrade.
Kitchen remodel step 14: Sink, valance, appliance garage, cabinet hardware.

Then finally, our dishwasher arrived! My spouse and I installed it ourselves, with minimal swearing.
Kitchen remodel final step: install (backordered) dishwasher!
And we lived happily ever after!
Completed Kitchen 1

July 27, 2014
by emily

Sprawl, Sweet Sprawl

My husband and I went to a wedding in Detroit last weekend… well, actually White Lake, MI. The definition of Metro Detroit is ever-expanding, much like the associated suburban sprawl. We spent some time driving around the Waterford / White Lake area, and I couldn’t help but notice the repeating big box stores and housing plans.

I created a Google map that illustrates the distance between the neighborhood on the East Side where my Dad grew up to the hotel we stayed at for the wedding. I included a stop in Ferndale, because we visisted there, and also because Ferndale was developed in part because of the access to the city provided by Detroit Interurban Streetcars.

Metro Detroit job sprawl is the worst in the country. Access to the city doesn’t matter as much anymore, because the jobs have moved out of the city too. Where will the sprawl stop? Traverse City?


DISCLAIMER: I don’t live there anymore, so I’m not complaining… just wondering.


Optional Soundtrack

June 6, 2014
by emily

Them rattlin’ chains

I have been playing video games for a long time. I started out playing games on my family’s Atari 2600. My mom was really good at Ms. Pac-Man. After that, for reasons unknown to me, there was a  video game hiatus, until we acquired an Apple IIGS sometime around 1988. Thus began my enthusiasm for Sierra games, which survived our platform switch to a Gateway 2000 486 DX2 in 1993.

The last video game that Sierra Entertainment produced before it was sold in 1996 was Phantasmagoria, an “interactive movie” thriller, with, wonder of wonders, a female protagonist. This appealed to my teenage feminist sensibilities, except for, well, the rather over the top violence depicted in the game, including a scene with an attempted rape.

I’ll try to channel my fake teenage angst with this archive from my internal monologue:  “I finally get to play a character in a game that isn’t a guy, but I have to endure virtual abuse. What a load of crap!” (I didn’t really swear until I started writing computer software.)

Fast forward 17 – 18 years, to the following 3 games:

  1. Tomb Raider Reboot (March 2013)
  2. The Last of Us (June 2013)
  3. Beyond: Two Souls (October 2013)

Each of these games have 2 things in common: Female Protagonist (playable only part of the time in The Last of Us), and… attempted rape.

Here’s my adult outrage: “What the Fuck!?! Video Game writers have had my entire lifetime to come up with less oppressive plot devices, but they keep coming back to this!”

I realize that most successful modern video games are violent (that’s a topic for another blog post), but here is the basic difference between games with a male protagonist and those with a female one:

Male: I am a total bad ass, and I’m going to kill all of these bad people/monsters/aliens (and maybe solve some puzzles) to save the world!

Female: I am a total bad ass, and I’m going to kill all of these bad people/monsters/aliens (and maybe solve some puzzles), to save the world! Oh, and by the way, at least one of the bad people/monsters/aliens is going to try to rape me.

Video game writers, you can do better than this. As video games become more cinematic, please refer to the following examples of awesomeness from Hollywood:




April 7, 2014
by emily

Isabelle F. French, 1924 – 2014

My cousin Isabelle (once removed) passed away on March 1st.

Isabelle F. French

When I was growing up, she would visit her Aunt Marion (my grandmother) while she was travelling though Detroit on road trips.

I remember her dog, Marco Polo, and her modesty when we would talk about her accomplishments:

SWE Philadelphia Memoirs

National SWE Past Presidents

SWE Archive Interview with Elaine Pitts  (Transcript)

The last time I saw her was at the SWE National Conference in Birmingham, Alabama in 2003. She greeted me with a big smile and a big hug, and we went on a quest with a couple of her friends to find some good southern food.

She provided a great example of how to live with self integrity, and of how to be gracious and strong when doing so.

Isabelle Frances French – Obituary

After being double homeowners for 10 months, Scott & I are scheduled to close on our “summer home” (half a mile away from our new house) on March 18th. Only having to pay one mortgage (yay) will free up some cash for home improvements.

Our old house had a very nice tool bench that my dad built for us. There was also a room under the front porch where we could throw all of our tools & construction crap and put it out of sight. We do not have such a room in our new house, so when we moved we threw all of our tools & crap in a pile in the back of the garage.

Garage Before

This was very annoying, because, for instance, if I needed a caulking gun, finding one required digging through half a dozen storage bins, and then not finding it, and then looking though them again, and then finding it in the second bin I looked through the first time. Argh.

Scott & I measured the tool bench in our old house with thoughts of replicating it. It was constructed inside the room it is in, and is too big to remove without disassembling it. Then we went lumber shopping and determined the following:

  1. We do not own a vehicle in which we could easily transport the required materials
  2. Building a tool bench would require a bunch of digging through the storage bin vortex
  3. Building a tool bench would be a lot easier if we already had a tool bench
  4. My dad is a badass with a table saw, and we are not. (We don’t even have a table saw.)

So, we wandered around Lowe’s and found the Gladiator Garageworks stuff. Ooh, shiny… and on clearance!

Assembling the cabinets was pretty easy, and only required a few tools:

Cabinet Assembly

Taa Daa!

Cabinet Assembled

We connected the two cabinets with a bamboo work surface, and voilà! Now the garage looks like this:


Ok, actually it looks like this:

Garage After

Next step: hanging stuff on the walls.

November 19, 2013
by emily
1 Comment

Grass Fed

Dear Lightning,

It seems like only yesterday that I met you, and now you are my dinner.

This is a photo of you and your friends, taken on September 6, 2012.

When a cow has twins, she rejects one of them. You were the one she rejected. So were both of your friends. Shortly after you arrived at my parents’ property, the neighbor kids named the three of you Thunder, Lightning, and Black Betty. I hope you had a nice life hanging out and munching on grass. I appreciate your sacrifice.



P.S. You are delicious.

Processing done by Merindorf Meats.

October 19, 2013
by emily


Scott & I saw Gravity in 3D IMAX last weekend. I thought it was a great movie: it was Alien without the alien. Some of the distances between spacecraft were unrealistic, but I’m willing to overlook that.

However, the purpose of this post is not to describe the movie. It is to describe something much more grave: the state of the women’s rest room at the movie theatre. It is to rant a little about something that I am tired of overlooking.

This thing is: Wet toilet seats, left behind (ahem) by ladies who are afraid to sit down in public restrooms.

Hovering your bare ass inches over a toilet seat is admittedly challenging. It requires strong quadriceps, and is stressful on the knees. Accuracy and precision can be difficult in this situation, especially if you drank a beverage from the snack bar that was 6 times the volume of your bladder.

I am an engineer, so I try to fix problems with better design. I offer up a solution that works for most non-western countries: the squat toilet.

Squat toilet, Zhongshan, ChinaI have spent some time in China, so I have used a squat toilet. It takes a little getting used to, but the only part of you that has to touch anything is the soles of your shoes. Note the step-on flush handle! If you’re hovering over a western toilet seat, you’re pretty close to squatting, anyway, and this is more sanitary. There are also health benefits.

Still not convinced? Check out this somewhat amusing (or maybe you had to be there) tutorial about how to use a squat toilet. Unlike in China, toilet paper and hand soap would be provided.

I expect that my proposal will be about as well received in the USA as the roundabout.