Saturday, December 31, 2005

We flip for rock 'n roll

According to the ultrasound, one of the babies is currently head-down, and one is head up. They say that the babies will turn towards sound, so we applied some Neil Young.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Carless in Seattle

I'm having myself a little thought experiement. Could we live without a car?

Of course, really the question is "could my wife + 3 kids live without a car, in Seattle". It requires a great deal of tact to explain to someone why you are taking away their car, and why they'll like it. And I don't have a lot of tact...

We live in the suburbs now, but suppose we lived in the city? My understanding of city life is that things are easier to walk to than to drive to. And that buses in Seattle are very good.

Remember that we're talking about TWO newborns and a very active 4 year old.

Anyone reading this that has lived carless in the US with a family? Any advice?

The growing family

A bit of news for my readers: our family is growing. New baby coming, and all that. Should be arriving in a month or so.

As part of this, I've been trying to figure out some logistics.

For example, we have one car, and like it that way. Can we fit 4 of in a Saturn SL2? I like taking the bus to work. I'm slightly more likely to walk or bicycle places, and I certainly could use the exercise. When my son & I ride the bus to a museum or something, the bus ride is part of the adventure. I never have to pay for parking in the city. I'm reducing my contribution to traffic, fossil fuel consumption, noise, and air polution. I don't have the stress of negotiating rush-hour. I can read on the bus.

Living in suburbs makes the no-car thing a bit harder. There are fewer busses that pass my home. Everything is a little further away, as you have to walk past homes with yards & cross wide streets to get to it.

We just got some news this past week. We're having twins. I'm still feeling a little stunned. We'll be a family of 5! Suddenly I have to repeat all the logisitcal planning...

5 of us certainly won't fit in the car we have, if you remember that 2 of the passengers will be in rear-facing infant carseats for 18 months. In fact, there aren't a lot of cars that will fit all of us. We'll be trying out some station wagons, but it may be too tight. Could get a crown vic and own the road. :-) Otherwise, it's minivan time.

Friday, December 23, 2005

An attempt at spelt pita

My son may have a wheat sensitivity, so we've been trying to keep wheat out of his diet. Good pita bread is an food for me - something I grew up eating. So I decided to try my hand at a spelt pita.

I asked my arabic grandmother to help me make some. She was used to refined wheat flour, and we were using a strange oven, so I'm not surprised it came out a bit odd. I did get a picture.

Old paint

While doing work around the house, I found myself in the middle of another task.

One thing we've managed to collect in this house is old paint.

When you paint a room, you think "I'll save one can of this extra paint, for touch-ups". I don't know how realistic that is - I can't think of a time when we've touched up a room, at least beyond the first week after painting it.

Anyway, the collection was quite... extensive.

Some of the paint was clearly in bad shape, and that I'll get rid of.

However, there are many cans of paint in various colors that might be useful, just not to me. Perhaps you want to paint a wooden box to be a play prop for a kid. Or you are in a theater group, and want to paint props there.

If you have an interest in taking this paint off my hands, let me know.

What I mean by 'debt'

I mentioned the idea of 'debt' in my previous post.

I picked up this idea from the Agile software community, where they call it "Technical Debt". Let me attempt a definition:

- When an activity creates an unmet need, that need is a 'debt'. As long as that need is unmet ("the debt remains unpaid"), you continue to incur increased cost ("interest").

Here's a simple example. I cook breakfast for my family. After we eat, there are some dirty dishes. I could wash them now, or leave them until later. If I leave them, the food will dry on, and it will be harder to wash them later. If I try to cook something else in the kitchen, I have to work around all the dirty dishes in my way, which makes the new task more expensive, too.

Just as with financial debt, it sometimes makes sense to pay it off now, and sometimes to wait and pay later (with interest). For example, if I need to get to work early, then it may be worth it to leave the dishes.

With my finances, I don't live with debt. I don't have a car loan, or an ongoing credit card balance, or unpaid student loans. Partly this is because I am fortunate enough to make a good income, but many of my coworkers spend all their money & more, and end up in permanent debt.

BTW, the one debt I do carry is a mortgage. I think this is a wise debt to carry. We were already paying a rent before buying a house, so the majority of the monthly obligation is not new. The value for that money is high (large house + land vs. apartment). A very small portion of each payment goes to the principle, so it's not lost. The tax breaks from owning a home are very good. Most importantly, the value of the home has increased substantially, causing a major growth in equity.

Working at home

I took 2 weeks off for vacation at the end of the year, and decided to use one of them to work on the house. I asked my wife to make a list of all the things she'd like me to do - painting, hauling, electrical, whatever. We'd prioritize, and then I'd spend a full 40 hour week doing it. The second week I planned to relax.

Obviously, part of the goal is to pay off some of the accumulated debt in the house. (Not a financial debt, but a need that I created at some point.) The other part of the goal is to see how it feels. How much of this work can I really expect to do myself? What can I learn to do, and do successfully? Will I be able to stay motivated enough to do this work? Will I always need to pay an expert?

I've been doing that work all this week. It has gone well. The biggest surprise is how each task generates more tasks.

For example, there was "seal the grout around the tile in the downstairs bath". While doing it, I noticed some tiles that were really loose. They came off with 2 fingers. Underneath, I found that the drywall had rotted away some time ago, and someone had filled in the gap with some kind of cement, which also came out with my fingers. The drywall is quite mobile here, so to fix it, I'd want to pull out more & look in to bracing it better. Time to call a professional.

So, this means that the downstairs bath is not available for bathing, so I took a look at the upstairs shower. The water flow was always a bit low, even when we moved in 8 years ago. But both it and the adjacent sink had gotten *really* slow for hot water recently. We have steel intake pipes, which are about 45 years old (they won't last much longer).

I disassembled the shower head and cleaned it out. While it was off, I turned on the shower, and the water flow was high. And brown. Rust was pouring out in the water. Once it turned clear, I jiggled the faucet, and more brown came out. Kept doing this until it stayed clear.

Reassembled the shower head, and now the shower has acceptable flow.

However, with all that water coming out so fast, now the drain doesn't do it's think fast enough, and the shower fills with water.

As I was removing the drain cover, I dropped one of the screws down it. Now I need to go buy the exact right screw to fix it.

Cleaned out the gunk from the drain that I could see, but it still doesn't drain fast enough. Next step is to grab the plunger.

Figured I should clear the downstairs bath drain as well, so I opened it up. Could see gunk, but couldn't really reach it. Regular pliers couldn't, either. I knew I had needle-nose pliers, but couldn't find them.

Pulled all my tools out of my tool area and sorted them. Spent a few hours figuring out how to arrange tools. I don't want duplicates of everything, and I'm not very good at keeping things organized as I use them. In the end, the overflowing shelves of tools became neat & clean, with some shelves empty. It was amazing how much trash I pulled out of there.

The biggest collection in my tools working on electrical stuff. I have face places, 120V receptacles, Ethernet jacks, an insulated staple gun, fish tape, etc. I think electrical (both high & low voltage) is the kind of home work I enjoy the most.

Finally at the end of the day, I had pulled the gunk out with the needle-nose pliers.

However, the drains still don't work. That's for today.

Oh, and the TODO list is bigger today than when I started on Monday.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Power on

In a continuation of yesterday's power adventures, today I did a some more outlets.

I made the 2-prong outlet properly grounded, as I mentioned.

I replaced 2 switches. The new ones are higher quality, so I'm feeling good about that, too.

I went to do the last outlet, and ran in to trouble. When I went to screw in the new outlet, I couldn't get one of the screws to take. The box was plastic, and the screw hole had stripped. Also, while working on it, I had cracked the box on the side, which didn't seem like a good thing.

I wanted to replace it, but it was securely fastened to a stud (good!). Actually, it was rivetted to a metal bracket which was nailed to a stud. I was able to get behind a wall in another part of the house to get an idea of what I was dealing with.

I basically demolished the box with random tools, pulling out the peices as I went. Then I used a prybar to pull the nails out, which was a HUGE PAIN IN THE ASS.

Once that was done, and my ass had recovered, I installed the new box, new outlet, etc. All good. I also stopped to praise my choice to buy some extra gang boxes yesterday.

Other interesting notes from the experience:

- 2 of the walls in the kithen had wallpaper, which was painted over. Bad. Some of it tore while I worked, and now there's a white blemish next to a light switch. Need to touch that up.

- While working on the plug that I didn't get along with, my 4-year-old flipped some breakers. Scary.

- I actually did manage to give myself a little jolt. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't exactly painful.

Time to pause being an electrician. Tomorrow I go back to moonlighting as a software developer.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

power corrupted

(This is a bit of a departure, topic-wise, for my regular readers. It'll be interested to see if it resonates with anyone.)

As part of my work in the kitchen today, I replaced two power outlets. We had already decided to freshen them up, to make them all white & matching. These two were quite an experience, though.

First, they appear to each be on a dedicated circuit.

One has relatively modern 2 conductor + ground, 12ga wire. What's odd is that the breaker is 30 amps! If I could convince myself that it really was a dedicated circuit, I'd replace the outlet with a 20 amp one, which might be nice to have.

The other one has the same wiring as the rest of the house: It's all 12 ga, with cloth insulation. The ground wires never go in to the gang box in the whole house. That seems weird to me, but maybe that was how they did things back in 1959. (yeah, my house is ancient!) In this one case, however, the ground wire was screwed in to the back of the gang box, which was metal, so the outlet could be grounded. Everywhere else the gang box is plastic, and the outlet is 2-prong.

On top of this, the gang boxes were just screwed in to the drywall with wood screws! Not even with a drywall anchor. So as I starter my work, the screws pulled out of the wall. Uggh.

Off to the hardware store to buy some old work gang boxes. Had to cut out the wall a bit to fit the boxes just right. In the end it all went back together fine, and looks good.

Tomorrow I replace the other two outlets in the kitchen. One is 2-prong, even though the gang box is grounded (I tested). So it'll be going to 3-prong.

Weird wiring in this house. And I'm still trying to make sense of the 30A breaker on the 12ga wire...

back in the salad again

While in the Far East, we had some work done on the house. In the kitchen we had the cabinets refaced, a new countertop, a new cooktop, and a new floor.

So before we left, we had to pack up everything and empty the kitchen completely. This, at the same time as packing for a trip. (We also had to empty the family room, but that's for another blog.)

When we came back, the kitchen wasn't quite done (as expected). We were able to use it, but we couldn't stock it yet.

Finally on Thursday the work was done. We cleaned up after the work (mostly sawdust), and now the kitchen is ready for the stuff to come back.

However, we're trying to reduce how much stuff we have. One of the techniques I've used a couple times is to take away a bunch of stuff, and then see what comes back. Whatever's left after a certain time period goes to the thrift store. So instead of unpacking all our stuff back in to the cabinets, the kitchen is full of boxes of as-yet-unused stuff.

To make things more interesting, we decided not to bring the microwave back in to the kitchen. Furthermore, we found out that the dishwasher is kaput, and the new one is still on the way.

This means that all heating of food is on the stove, and all washing is by hand. Is it possible to live in the suburbs in 2005 with neither a dishwasher nor a microwave? Well, we'll find out.

Today was a big day. I got the ginger soda starter & kefir going again. I started a batch of yogurt with a starter I brought from my grandmother. I set up an oatmeal ferment for breakfast tomorrow. And I replaced two power outlets.
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