Life, Writing

An Aleutian Latrine

Can you help me determine the author of a humorous World War II poem about toilets?

While I was clearing out my late father-in-law’s attic, I came across three cases of Kodachrome slides taken by his late cousin David Tewes, who had been a soldier stationed in Alaska during World War II. Among the slides was a group of photos taken in Attu, Alaska during the War, and one of those photos, labeled “An Aleutian Latrine — Our XMas Card”, contained an unattributed poem and a shot of a soldier doing his “business” in the snow.

The poem is transcribed below.

An Aleutian Latrine

An Aleutian Latrine

Out on the wind swept tundra,
A place where howling winds will play
Stands a new three hole cabin
Overlooking a cold, cold bay.
It’s a very rugged country,
For here nature lovely calls.
You have a choice of constipation
Or a dose of frozen whatsis.
When the mercury says zero
And the weather’s very mean,
Then a man must be a hero,
When he visits our latrine.
For the seat is white with snowdrift
And the breeze blows thru the hole,
So your whosis gets frost bit
And your whatsis blue from cold.
It’s a struggle thru high snow drifts,
While the howling winds cut cappers
With a sigh, you sink on frozen boards
And reach out for the toilet paper.
Then gloom surrounds you, no paper is there
While you are in a bad position.
You can not act, nor seek relief,
Till channels clear that requisition.
I’ve seen brave men stoop to sugar bowls
Even paper bags and cans
And some even lost the fight
And did it in their pants.
It takes guts to serve your country,
As a sailor or marine…
But a man must be a hero
When he visits our latrine.
It takes guts to be a soldier,
And to heed your country’s call.
It matters not the whosis be cold
And although you loose your whatsis.
For when the work is over,
and the bloody war is won,
If you’ve used our ole three holer
Then — you are a man, my son.

* “whatsis” and “whosis” are placeholder words used to avoid giving offense. Use the rhyme scheme to decode their secret meaning!

I have not been able to find another copy of this poem; Google definitely doesn’t know about it.  I would love to track down the author if the author is known.

It’s possible that David wrote this poem, although he did not sign his name to it. Based on his photos and his hobbies shown in his other photographs, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did write it.

Chris Steller pointed out on Twitter that the author Dashiell Hammett was stationed in the Aleutian Islands at the same time that David was there. It would stand to reason, however, that if Hammett had written the poem, David would have wanted to note that, since Hammett was well-known for his book and movie The Maltese Falcon.

The rest of David’s photos from Attu are posted on the website I built to showcase his photography, in case you can find any clues therein.  Any and all tips, ideas, or wild speculations are welcome in the comments below!


Epoxy, Life, Maker

How to Make Your Very Own Kidney Stone Paperweight

On today’s episode of Finkstructables, I’m going to be walking you through the steps to make your very own kidney stone paperweight.

Step 1: Create a kidney stone.

I made this stone with my right kidney, but you could use your left one if you like. Now, you want the stone to be large enough that it’s easy to see but small enough that it doesn’t cause you crippling pain on its way out. I nailed the former but overshot it on the latter. Oops!

Step 2: Encase the stone in resin.

I used this “crystal clear” epoxy resin, although I learned after the fact that it only stays clear if you pour it in increments of less than a quarter inch. I did the entire thing in two one-inch pours, and the heat generated by the curing process discolored the resin, turning it yellow. Oops!

You should use a mold that is made for casting resin so that you can easily remove the block once it’s done curing:

This mold was supposedly ok to use with resin, which I guess it was. It just wasn’t reusable with resin. Oops!

Now that you have easily removed your crystal clear block of resin from the mold, cut it into a projection of a 2-dimensional kidney shape. I used my bandsaw for this step:

Then, trim off the edges at about a 45º angle, bringing it closer to a 3-D representation of a kidney.

Be careful to prevent the warm resin shavings from sticking to your bandsaw bearings and hardening in place, or your saw might not want to start the next time you use it. Oops!

Begin sanding the resin, first removing any saw marks, and then removing all of the scratches from the previous grit level. I sanded mine with 80, 120, 200, 600, 1000, and 2000 grit paper.

Once you’ve exhausted your sandpaper options, switch to rubbing compound. I used these polishing wheels by chucking them into my drill press.

After polishing the entire paperweight with rubbing compound, it should look something like this:

Now you can move on to polishing compound. This will give your kidney a glossy shine, and if you neglected to get all the bubbles out when you poured, your stone will appear to be floating in a sea of resiny stars.

And that’s it! Now every time you use your paperweight, you’ll remember all of the fun times you and your stone shared together.

That paper’s not going anywhere. Thanks, kidney stone!

Christmas, Life

Our 2016 Christmas Letter

I am trying something new this year. Instead of typing out the Christmas letter, I am dictating it to our new digital assistant, Alexa. Hopefully, this will save me some time, as I will be able to take care of some other important tasks while I update you on our lives. Yeah, hi, could I get two Big Macs, a large fry, and a medium chocolate shake? Actually, a large chocolate shake. Alexa, you’re not writing this part down, are you?

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Life, Woodworking

I Built a Treehouse

After we moved into our new house last month, my kids started asking for a treehouse.  I told them I’d need to see some plans before I could get started, and the next morning, I found this on my workbench:


Fair enough.  The previous owners said that there had previously been a tree fort built in these trees, and some of the detritus was still visible:


These trees didn’t look so hardy, but there is no shortage of other trees to choose from on our property.



We settled on this one. V-shaped, about 200 feet from the house, and with good views in all directions.

The most important thing to consider when building a treehouse is that the tree will move, especially in a strong wind.   To account for this, the main supports should have slots where the bolts attach the beams to the tree so that a swaying tree doesn’t tear apart the entire structure.  (You can also use special hardware like Garnier Limbs or treehouse attachment bolts.) I used 2×12 treated lumber and started by drilling holes about 5″ apart.


Then I removed the wood between the holes to create a slot for the bolt to slide in.


The bolt holes need to be pre-drilled, otherwise you’ll never get them in all the way. I drilled 9/16″ holes for the 3/4″ bolts.


As long as you only put a few holes into the tree, it should be able to survive. It’s actually worse to put a bunch of small holes in a tree by using nails or screws than a few big holes for bolts, since many small holes may cause the tree to compartment that entire area, causing the wood between the small holes to rot.


Here’s the first beam attached with two of the 10″ long 3/4″ bolts. It’s about 5′ off the ground on the left side, 8′ off the ground on the right.


I put up the other beam and attached the joists above them to support the treehouse floor.  Here’s a side-view that shows better the shape of the tree and the main support V.


The ladder on the ground means “Kids, don’t try and climb up there yet.”

At this point, I was able to put in the floor boards. There’s nothing complicated about this; just leave space around the trunks so that the tree has room to grow.



With this kind of support system, the platform will be wobbly without additional support, so I added the first of two corner supports and bolted them to the trunk near the ground.



The kids brought up some tools to help out.


I started on the railing and added a second vertical V support.


A view from behind the treehouse, looking down the hill.


I added a ladder, built out of 2x6s. It’s steeper than a stairway but shallower than a vertical ladder.


I trimmed off most of the floorboards, but the kids asked me to leave this one long.


I don’t know if their original intention was to mount the disembodied head of Vader on it, but that’s what they did.

To avoid too much weight and too much work, I went with a canopy roof. If I had planned ahead, I wouldn’t have had to replace the railing posts on both sides with taller ones to support the roof, but I did not. I was able to reuse the shorter posts anyway, so the only thing I lost was a bunch of time and energy.


I used a big PVC pipe as the peak of the roof, and I think that was probably dumb. I wanted to avoid using something that would wear out the tarp if it rubbed against it, but a sanded 2×4 probably would have been fine, and stronger too. Oh well.

The canopy is tied down using horn cleats. This worked well, but I should have planned their spacing a little better to get the roof as taut as possible.


Time for glamour shots!




And here’s a before-and-after shot, taken with Reenact, of course.

Life, OpenSCAD, Programming, Woodworking

I Built a Tilt-Out Trash Can Cabinet

I’m going on a work trip later this month, and Christina asked me if I would be able to build something to hide the kitchen trash and recycling cans before I leave (and before her mom visits). Challenge accepted!

We brainstormed and came up with a tilt-out cabinet design.  The first thing I did was model the cabinet in OpenSCAD. We hadn’t bought any garbage cans yet, so I made it customizable; I could specify any number of cans of any size, and the model would adjust and print out a cut list for me to bring to the lumberyard.

The script is available at on GitHub, and as you can see, it can even animate the tilting mechanism:


We settled on a two-can design (one for trash and one for recycling), but we did contemplate more… grandiose… ideas.


The sides and bottom of the cabinet were cut from one sheet of sanded plywood. I don’t have a track saw, so I made do with a circular saw and a straight edge.


After making these cuts, I finally ordered a dedicated fine-tooth blade for my circular saw to avoid tearout the next time I need to cut nice wood without a table saw.  A 24-tooth blade is fine for 2x4s, but not for any visible edges on furniture.

The first thing I built was the part of the tilting door that holds the cans to make sure that the spacing and measurements were right.



The spacing and measurements were right.

I cut the sides and center of the cabinet and then used a biscuit joiner to cut slots that will be used to attach the top with tabletop fasteners. This is similar to how I build our kitchen table, and this cabinet will be stained and painted to match.


I used my 90º clamps to hold the boards in place while I joined them with pocket screws.



Oops. It’s been a while since I’ve used pocket screws, and I forgot that it matters how long they are.

The center divider was joined with regular 2.5″ screws straight up the bottom.




This is how the cabinet bases will sit in the box. They sit closer to the center board than the side boards because the face frame will take up more space on the ends (where the board is flush with one side of the plywood) than in the middle, where the board is centered.

The face frame is 1×2″ poplar and pocket screws.  I used poplar because it’s a cheap hardwood (although not too hard), and it takes paint well. It’s the same wood I built the apron of our kitchen table out of.



The cabinet top is made up of three red oak boards joined with biscuits and glue. These boards were left over from last year’s table build, so it will match exactly.  When we moved in, I inherited a powerful jointer from the previous owner, so I was able to use that to square up the rough side of each board rather than using a router and a straightedge — major timesaver.


Here’s the top, cut to length and width and then sanded smooth. My new saw blade hadn’t come yet, so I had to cut these by hand. I should probably order a new handsaw too.  It’s about 18″x33″, and sanding went a lot quicker than the 40″x84″ kitchen tabletop. I would say 83% quicker.

I stained the tabletop with Varethane’s Kona stain.


The cabinet doors are more 1×2 poplar with a groove on the inside to accept beadboard panels.  Here’s a shot from behind after I nailed and glued the cabinet doors to the tilting bases.  In the background, you can see a mystery bag, a computer desk, my shop treadmill, and a “telephone chair” that I’m going to refinish.



There’s 1/8″ space around each door, but I should have left an additional 1/8″ or at least 1/16″ on the bottom to allow for the space the hinges are going to take.  It worked out in the end though, just a little closer than I would have liked.

Here’s the top after two coats of polyurethane and the cabinet after the first coat of paint (Sherwin Williams Creamy White).



I attached the doors with hinges at the bottom and added a stop block to each side of the middle divider so the doors can’t fall all the way open. They stop at about 40º from vertical, leaving just enough room to remove the trash cans.


These spacers in the back ensure that the doors sit flush with the face frame. Since the hinges aren’t mortised in, they lift the fronts of the cabinet up about 3/16″, so the backs needs to be lifted accordingly.


Tada! The handles match the arts and crafts cabinet in the next room, so this piece really brings the whole house together.


Double tada!

After using it for a couple of days, it’s clear that I’m going to want to add some sort of soft-close mechanism. Other than that, I’m very happy with how it turned out.  It was my first time building my own cabinet doors, my first time using a jointer, and the last time I’ll ever have to see garbage cans in my kitchen.

Christmas, Life

Our 2015 Christmas Letter

You’ll never believe what this family did this year! Read on to learn their one weird tip for beating the cold!

Fast forward to July, because nothing before that matters. We sold our house and three of our belongings and moved 2,000 miles away to Oregon, the land where water is liquid year-round and your snot never freezes and the mailman delivers fresh homemade marshmallows every day! To be honest though, I’m starting to get sick of so many marshmallows! I mean, how many marshmallows can a guy eat?! After the first 20 or 30 each day, it’s a real chore to keep all these marshmallows down!

When we sold our house, we got top dollar for it. (The realtors and the bank took all of the other dollars in the stack.) We took that dollar and used it to put gas in our car for the long trip out to Medford, Oregon. Fun fact: You could drive from Minneapolis to any of the state capitals in less time than it takes to drive to Medford. Especially if you speed!

On our journey to Oregon, we saw all of the sights the North has to offer: Mount Rushmore, a cow, Old Faithful, and that thing where two swans touch their heads together and their necks make the shape of a heart. We almost slept in a teepee, and I’m happy to report that not a single member of our party died of dysentery, but we did see a lot of tombstones mentioning cheese and pepperoni.

“Fortunately,” we did not move to Oregon until after our yearly Minnesota camping trip. Even more “fortunately,” Oregon’s camping season is much longer than Minnesota’s, so we “got” to go camping again after we moved. How “fortunate” are we that we “got” to go camping two times in one year?? Two times. Imagine that. Can you even imagine it? I couldn’t. Until it happened to me.

Oregon is a magical place. Here’s proof: in October, I guessed the combination of a Master Lock on the first try. The first try! In Minnesota, it would take me two tries, but not in Oregon!

Gloria had two surgeries to clear her tear ducts so that her tears would drain normally and not smear all over her cute little face. Now the only thing smeared all over her cute little face is boogers and food and markers and juice.

While Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, Oregon is the land of approximately one lake. But what a lake! It was formed by a volcano and has an island in the middle! Gee willikers! It’s called Crater Lake, and we visited it to give it the Minnesotan Lake Stamp of Approval, but they didn’t know what we were talking about so we had to just stamp it on a rock and run away real quick.

Gabriel is in first grade now, and Gideon has started Pre-K. Most of Gabriel’s credits transferred from Minnesota, so he only has to retake Shapes 101 and Introduction to Glitter Applications.

In Oregon, you cannot pump your own gas, but you can grow your own grass, so that’s been quite an adjustment to make.

I hear it’s snowing in Minnesota. LOL.