Holiday Letter

2015, That was the year that was

A summary of 2015 for Dave, Nick, and Missy

That Was the Week that Was is an old ’60s TV show of news satire. Robert Frost, BBC refugee, hosted with his British accent, prescient interviewing skills, and imperial irony. The show suggested the title for the 2015 year end post.


Missy with ball closeupMissy is doing well. This picture is from last fall but she is a 22E dog so she’s a young four and still full of play and chase. She has made a second career of trolling the school kids on their way to and from the bus stop and chasing bicyclers and skaters. Skater kids get her really excited as do noisy training wheels. The neighborhood kids have learned that the fence is good and that Missy is showing off her Kung Fu at the fence and won’t eat them.

Missy is a manipulative little devil. She has the most pathetic whimper which she’ll use when she believes she’s entitled to food or attention. And, like all greyhounds, she’s a tyrant about the plan of the day. Miss an activity and she’ll be in your ear that you’ve overlooked some important duty owed her.

I make it a point to play with Missy a bit every day, usually before sunset in the yard and in the evening in the house. She’s a great hunter of stuffies and loves squeaky balls and particularly likes those like the red example in the photo above. They’re her precious and she hoards them all in her outdoor lair. I have to make it a point to bring some back in for evening play. We have good lights in the yard so after dark outdoor play is also an option.

Golf GTI


A rear ending at Rosemont and Lynnhaven in Virginia Beach murdered my beloved 2001 Audi A4 Avant. I was trying to stay out of the market while Audi sorted out what it would bring into the US. I was hoping they would offer the A3 “Sportback” here. Sportback is Audi speak for a hatchback. It was not to be. And no A3 Etron, a hybrid hatch available in the UK and Germany. But Americans want SUVs so we get the Q3, Q5, and Q7, each bigger than the one before. I drove a Q3 and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was refined and nice but it was not me. It was uncomfortable to drive in traffic and I’d never think of trying to squeeze it into the carport.

So it was down the street to look at the VW Golf. The Golf is an amazing vehicle. In US trim, the regular ones have the 1.8 TSI engine or the 2.0 TSI in the Golf GTI. I drove each version that was in stock, the base 1.8 automatic, the 2.0 manual, the 2.0 automatic, and the 2.0 Diesel. All are great vehicles having a strong agile family character. The 2.0 TSI gas power train was the most refined so a GTI was my choice. I was hoping to remain a shifty lad but no 2.0 white 4 door manuals were to be had. I ended up buying the 2.0 automatic from local dealer stock.

After 9 months with the vehicle, I’m pleased. It is refined, nimble, comfortable around town and on long drives, and a week’s driving takes about 5 gallons of fuel. The Audi needed 8 to make the same weekly orbit. And the car is quick but doesn’t feel it. The 2.0 T torque curve is flat so there are no cheap thrills from peaky acceleration. And no torque steer. Nail it on any surface and the car hooks up and goes straight with the traction and stability control on. Tanner Foust can drift it but not me. No drama. And it is nimble. Easily the most nimble of my several cars.


We’re done at last. The new kitchen is a joy to cook in and the Charleston entry has worked very well both to take the dogs out and to go to and from the car. I only use the front door to walk the dogs and tend the mail box. It was a lot of work but well worth it.

The project went smoothly but slowly as my builder was busy with my job and several others. Mine was the small project so it had its stops and starts to contract trades. We could have saved some time on the end had there been a handy guy on staff that was not also a project manager. There were a number of small tasks that lagged for want of finish plumbing, carpentry, and electrical skills. My builder had to bring one of his regular subs back for each bit of tasks like installing the downdraft hood ductwork. I ended up doing the last little bits of this stuff myself. Just a day or so to install a deadbolt, wire up the downdraft blower under the house, etc.

A New Chest?

This January, I returned to the gym to resume weightlifting. I’d not lifted in 10 years so I was in for some aches and had to catch up on training technique. The thing that brought me back was that I was becoming concerned about accumulating aches and pains and the growing difficulty of doing lame stuff. Aching hips, knees, etc. needed exercise to remain strong and stable.

I’ve been doing something different this time around. I’m doing basic 5 by 5 training. Five sets of five repetitions of the basic exercises.

  • Squat
  • Bench press
  • Row
  • Deadlift

These exercises cover most of the body and all of the big muscles. No specialization exercises, just the compound lifts. I took a break during the remodel to look after the dogs and have just gotten back to being regular for 3 or so visits to the gym each week.

I’ve been lifting at the Norfolk Fitness and Wellness Center on Newport Ave. This is the old Jewish Community Center. Unfortunately, it has limited weights but also limited patronage. There’s only one power rack and set of plates and a second corner with deadlift plates. They have lots of machines.

Clubs and recs like machines because they allow a small staff to show the setup and manage the weight room. Unfortunately, most machines make anything past newbie gains difficult, especially for those who are past adolescence. Machines are designed for safety, attractiveness to beginners, and ease of setup.

The catch is that the machine supports you and constrains motion of the limbs being trained. The muscles that stabilize the body, limb, and body core are not trained.

Traditional barbell exercises require you to support yourself and stabilize yourself. They involve many more muscles than the obvious ones directly associated with the joints being rotated. I was surprised to find my latissimus muscles sore the day after squatting for the first time.

The trick is to learn how to do the lifts properly. Most people begin lifting with little or no coaching so grip and motion vary all over the lot among beginners, even  young footballers and wrestlers who, in theory, have received strength training instruction.

I stumbled across several resources including Mike Matthews Muscle for Life ( and Strong Lifts ( that teach the basic lifting techniques. Mike Matthews has books to sell. The second site is Belgian and it is not at all obvious how the owner makes a living as he is not advertising in the US but does do a lot of speaking and coaching at home. has good introductory videos that show the proper form and a complete workout including warmups. Warmups are important to establish correct motion and prepare for the work sets. The warmups mostly allow you to rediscover the correct motion and core support, and prepare the nerves and muscles to do the work sets correctly and strongly.

The 5 by 5 technique has you increase the weights by 5 or 10 pounds when you can do all 5 sets of 5. With the increase, you’ll be able to do 5 reps for the early set but not the last set or two. If you can do more than 5 reps on the last set, it is time to increase the weight until the last set is 4 reps or so.

Institute for Learning in Retirement

A Lazy Day on the Little Muddy

ILR has been busy this year. I typically attend 5 to 6 classes per quarter plus a monthly board meeting and quarterly committee meeting. I’m chair of the Communications and Technology committee and webmaster. Each quarter, I get to update the website and class calendar on the website.

ILR has slowly been growing in size so we need to revise how we keep the membership records and class registrations. We had been using a home brew MS Access application to track membership and registration and an MS Excel spreadsheet to track payments. Both of these applications were single user. As membership grew and signups increased, it was taking the entire month of staff time available for registration to complete all of the registrations. Growth will force us to divide the work between 2 people as a worker can process 5 to 6 applications per hour and we has 200 to 300 to process. And we were handling each item a second time to post the payment.

After evaluating a number of alternatives, our automation task force recommend starting member accounts and sales invoicing to track registrations and payments. We would still need to divide the work among two or more workers so this meant that we needed a multi-user accounting package.

ILR had been using Quickbooks. Being comfortable with the Intuit product, we looked to see what Intuit offered that was multi-user. We found that the Quickbooks Online product was multiuser and offered a feature set that would track inventory for us. This allowed us to create our class seat inventory, invoice it to our members, record their payments allocating money to each invoice item, and send a statement confirming their signups and payment.

When we cancel a class we have to notify each member by Email or phone of the cancellation. We found that we could use the sales by item report to identify the members signed up for a specific class and that Quickbooks could Email those members having an address on file. It could also print a contact list. A second version of this report serves as a check-in roster for the class.

Our next goal is to begin sending class reminders and to allow members to check their signups online. This requires moving the website to a new platform that supports these sorts of inquires. An association management platform like Wild Apricot ( has these capabilities. Wild Apricot is specifically designed to track small club and trade association membership, event signups, and send event reminders and membership renewals. Unlike many similar products, it could support our manual mail-in process while offering a path to online payments and self-service for the more audacious members.

Competing products did not support a manual workflow or manual payments. Most also charged a per transaction service charge on top of the payment processor’s charge. More on this if we move forward with the second phase of the project.

Unitarian Church of Norfolk

Quackers and the Church (1)

Unitarian Church of Norfolk is in the process of moving. We have identified a property and are negotiating for its purchase. We have also found a buyer for our property who has a non-church but appropriate use for our building. Negotiation on both the buying side and selling side are slow but moving forward.

I’ll miss being on the Hague. It can be a pain at times as a result of coastal flooding but access to Ghent and downtown attractions after church and the nice view of the tidal creek and Chrysler Museum are attractive. Rumor has it that our new location has adequate parking, meeting space, and good access but that it will need renovation for our use. Even if we were to close real soon now, it would probably be fall before we could have first services there.

I’m church webmaster so I’ve been keeping the website up. This fall, our association, Unitarian Universalist Association, offered a WordPress theme and core content for congregational use. We are in the process of moving the church website to the new platform. Although not as rich as Open Outreach Drupal 7, the UUA congregation theme has all of the features we need in a church website. We’ve been able to stick to the UUA modules plus recommended modules with only the addition of WordPress Access Control to support members only pages.

I’ve moved most of our static content over and hope to begin proof reading everything in anticipation of taking the site live in early 2016.

By davehamby

A modern Merlin, hell bent for glory, he shot the works and nothing worked.