It's more than a house. It's an adventure.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Yard work!

My mother and sister came out last week(end) to help out with some yard work as both my wife & sister had the week off from work. The ivy in the front yard is now gone and the pachysandra is on its way, and we'll likely replace with sod instead of trying to grow fresh grass. We've also started planning out some flowerbeds and my mother helped identify a lot of the vegetation we have. Quite a few herbs, 2 dozen Bleeding Hearts, lots of Hosta varieties, and plenty more. I think she's a little envious and wants to take some of what we have. There's some wild stuff out there in the ground.

Still plenty to do, like marking off the flower beds and mulching. That'll make a big impact in the appearance.

One step closer

The family room is actually approaching completion. Strange, but true. Last Sunday & Monday I got the quarter-round moulding installed around the baseboards, and finished running the fan and speaker wires through the conduit that will be hidden behind the crown moulding. All that's really left is to actually hook up the fan wiring, install the fan, and take care of the crown moulding and over-TV shelf. It's amazing that we might actually be living in that room by the end of May!

Lovely wildlife

It seems we have a woodpecker who enjoys our house. He's been pounding away at the fascia board on the east end of the bedroom. I can't tell if there are bugs in the wood because he's opened up a hole, or if he's opened up the holes because there are bugs in there.

Either way, I need to get up there, get the bugs gone, and then seal things up. Possibly with a sheet of aluminum over things to keep him from pecking at it any more. Upon closer inspection, it looks like this board was replaced previously - it doesn't match the fascia boards on the other end of the bedroom! Recurring problem, perhaps?

Out on the tiles

The weather was just plain craptacular yesterday, so we finally got ourselves motivated to tile the backsplash behind the kitchen stove. I had hung the concrete backer board a few weeks ago, but other things came up taking focus away from the tiling itself.

For the first tile job either of us has ever done, we think it came out pretty good. We have a few little spacing issues, but we're not too concerned. We still have a few tiles left to hang, way up at the top, before we can grout. Which I'm sure will be an adventure unto itself.

The mortar (which smells like a bad day at the beach, I might add) was a little tough to work with at first; I kept dropping bits while I refined my technique. Once I had that down, we were in good shape. We're pretty happy with the results and can't wait to see it with the grout finished. It adds a lot to the room and adds a lot of dimension to the area behind the stove. As always, photos are in the gallery linked at the right.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The new pantry shelf is a hit

I missed out on getting a picture of both cats staring out the window this evening, but I did manage to get one of Juniper taking a bit of a nap. He always enjoyed the "hammock" shelf at one of our previous apartments, so we were hoping he'd like this shelf as well. So far, so good.

Another new house blogger!

Congrats to Lissa & hubby on their impending new home!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

And the wall's sealed too!

While I was working on various other things this weekend, my wife got a couple coats of polyurethane applied to the brick wall in the family room. It's taken a slight sheen (we used a satin finish poly, it was the flattest we could find), but that's ok. It's also darkened the color some, which we wanted. The important thing is that we no longer have to worry about the wall dusting, flaking and otherwise making a mess of the room!

Success in the ceiling!

Finally progress on wiring the ceiling fan for the family room! I pushed some of the insulation away from the hole and discovered that it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. I found that there is sufficient support in the ceiling for the fan, so I was able to return the support I'd bought a few weeks ago. And I had a joist handy to guide me to the west wall. I cut the old box down, and got started trying to route the wire.

There was no way I could reasonably just push a wire up there and be done with it, so I attempted to find my way with a piece of moulding, but didn't get very far. Then I tried the conduit, and got a little better - but still no luck. I peered up the 4" hole at the far end of the ceiling but didn't see anything. So, I opened it up another couple inches so I could get a hand up there. I drove the moulding in again, and shoved my hand into the ceiling. Groped around some, and found it!

Above the drywall, the roofline slopes inward pretty quickly. So every time I shoved the "probe" toward it, I was hitting that slope, not the wall itself. With this newfound knowledge, I taped the end of my wire to the end of the moulding, sent it in again, reached up and retrieved it.

Elapsed time: close to 2 hours. Pathetic, ain't it?

The rest of running the wire was pretty simple. Just hang the conduit and run the line through. Only snag there was cutting the conduit and brackets. My first attempt, using a standard Dremel cut-off wheel, ended in spectacular the instant the wheel touched the plastic. It just shattered. I fell back to the reinforced cut-off wheel and that worked a lot better - a combination of cutting and melting the plastic.

Now I just need to finish running the wire to the switch, get the new boxes in the ceiling and wall, seal things up and we're almost done.


We had to pick up quarter-round for the family room yesterday, so we picked up an extra 2 pieces to close up the gaps around the pantry. I didn't do the greatest job (my one corner isn't the cleanest joint), but for my first moulding job, in a room no one will really go into much, it's nice. Makes the room look about 1000% better too.

This project also gave us the push to clean up & organize the pantry. It's been a dumping ground since we moved in - anything we needed to get out of the way went in there. We lowered one of the shelves over the laundry equipment to get the detergent and such more in reach. This gave us room to put another shelf up there for other cleaning products. The main shelves got sorted and things relocated to more approriate places, and we were able to remove the lowest shelf altogether. Or, rather, relocate it - to below the front window of the pantry, so that our 4-legged friends have a place to sit and stare out the window. Plus, it helps to hide their water and food from view - as well as my crappy corner joint.

I'm going to borrow a brad nailer for the family room moulding. No way am I spending hours on my hands and knees nailing that stuff in there. My legs and back are killing me just from doing the pantry.

Friday, April 07, 2006

When < just doesn't cut it

While doing some more work on my documentation project today, I stumbled across this little gem:isPositive = (x == (x = Math.abs(x)));I had to scratch my head for a minute before I realized what it really does. All it does is set isPositive to true if x is positive, and false if x is negative.

It's basically a conditional without a conditional statement. If I could find my copy of Learning Perl, I'd compare it to a similar "shortcut" I read in there many years ago. This code reads like a Perl junkie wrote it and wanted to show off.

This code could just as easily, yet far more understandably, be written as follows:isPositive = true;
if (x < 0) {
isPositive = false;
At least that can be understood at a glance. But maybe it's just too obvious. Obfuscation is good, right kids?

A mouse in the house!

So there I was sifting through email on ye olde computer, and I heard my wife calling from the other end of the house: "honey....can you come here a minute please?" I ambled out to the living room to find out what was up. She says "there's a mouse in here!"

A what???

As I came into the kitchen, I saw my lovely wife on the floor, restraining Jade while Juniper made a half-assed attempt at chasing a little grey ball with something hanging off the end of it. Yep, it's a mouse. "Get a pot or something!" So I grab my favorite soup vessel, a 2 1/2 cup CorelWare mug-like thing.

I tracked the sucker down to under a storage cart. Move the cart - he takes off for the living room. As do the cats. So now he's in there, and the cats are at least keeping him too scared to move away from the desk/sofa area. I send my lovely bride to the pantry to fetch some items to seal the room - just a couple planks across the doorways at floor level. But now...he's gone.

I started having flashbacks to when a chimpunk was brought into my parents' house, live, by one of our cats many years ago. I chased that thing around half the house for 45 minutes.

I moved some things around - coffee table, sofa, a desk chair - trying to track him down. He didn't appear under the sofa, which I thought for sure he had run to. Then, my wife saw the varmint hiding behind a leg of the desk.

I dove under the desk, just trying to intimidate him into staying put. It wouldn't last long. "Get me something to block him in with. Some books!" And books were fetched. I blocked him in - but couldn't get a hand in to nab the rodent.

Not that I'd want to. I was still bare-handed, and who knows what this thing's carrying. My heavy leather work gloves are outside, in the shed. So I sent her back to the pantry for my Mechanix gloves. I had her put them on my hands, one at a time. Then I slid a book back. He was still in there. I slid it further, reached in and...he bolted.

Right across the room and under my recliner. We dove to the floor - he was wedged under the tilt mechanism. I put a hand in to grab him by the tail, but as soon as my hand went in, I lost my line of sight. When my hand came out, it was empty, and he was missing again. We stood up and looked at Juniper, in the corner next to the chair. And right behind him...was our prey.

Moving quickly, I got the mug set down over the critter, and he was contained. It's far too heavy for a mouse to move. Now I've got some time to think. Just how am I going to get this thing out now? If I lift the cup in the slightest, he'll be on the loose again.

Flashing back to the chipmunk incident, I ran to the kitchen and picked up this week's Time Warner Digital Phone ad. Heavy card stock, yet thin enough to slide under the mug and contain the mouse.

Out to the front porch with this guy. I wanted to get him in my hand and really lob him a good 50 or 60 feet, get him well away from the house (I was in my pajamas and slippers, it's raining out, I wasn't going past the covered porch). Alas, he managed to escape to the flowerbed in front of the porch as soon as the cover was lifted, and he was gone into the night.

I need to stop here and thank my wife for handling this situation like a man (I admit, I'm a pig). No shreiking, no jumping on chairs.

So, how did this mouse get in the house? We can't be entirely sure at this point. She says that it got into the dining room by way of the kitchen, being chased by a cat. She also says she heard a cat food dish sliding across the pantry floor immediately before the chase happened. And Jade has been very intently studying one corner of the pantry ever since - not to mention acting very, very weird in that room over the past few days. The floor in the pantry isn't completely "sealed" against the baseboards - things have settled and shifted. So our guess right now is that it was in the crawlspace below, and found its way up. I had planned on sealing those gaps up. But now it's a priority. Some expanding foam shot in there, and then some quarter-round around the room to really seal things up.

I suppose I should have expected this, with spring arriving. I expected bugs, I expected spiders...but never mice.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More Mewes

Kevin Smith has posted the next 3 parts of "Me and My Shadow" to his blog. I was hoping to see things improve in these installments, but should have expected worse. Every time things appear to look up, they get worse. Much worse.

Approaching 400

I'm now approaching 400 items in my documentation wiki at work. The good news is, I'm also approaching 90% complete, the way I figure it. I tried to pull a static copy of everything to hand out to other people, but the only way I could find to do it was weget. Which resulted in tens of thousands of files, many of them "old versions" of pages which I have no need for, and about 1 GB of my hard drive consumed. Plus a mess of other problems. I cut it down to about 100 MB and set up a batch file which would fake the environmental conditions needed to open the pages without editing paths in all of them, and that pretty much worked. Ideally, I'll just move my Trac environment over to the real server and not have to worry about it at all.

Utilities: The Good and the...not sure yet.

Earlier this week, we got a bill for the utilities down at the old apartment. We've been out of there since the next to last weekend in January, yet our bills remained abotu even with where they were when we still lived there. Supposedly we had one month of "estimated" charges (February), and one meter-reading (March), yet even with the March billing cycle things seemed ridiculously high. We set the thermostat for 50°, and while we didn't have the water heater turned down, it's not like we were drawing anything from it - just keeping what was there warm. And the only electricity being used was the fridge and the heating system fan. So anyway...this bill, they went back and got real readings, and it turns out that we'd paid so much over what we actually consumed that this bill was for only $16! The final April bill should be well under $100 as well. There's the "good."

In the "not sure yet" file, we got our latest utility bill for the house in the mail today. We're on a budget plan, which in theory is supposed to even payments out over the course of the year. In reality, it means that you get socked with an extra charge every year to play "catch-up". This month, they informed us that we're about $140 "behind" - that is, our budget payments have totalled to $140 less than our actual gas & electric usage over the 3 or 4 months so far. This budget was calculated from the last 3 months the previous owner owned the house - she wasn't around much, so I figure this number was a little low. But saves us money in the early days of owning the house. We're now through the worst of the cold weather, and we now have abotu 2 months of very little heating needed ahead of us. Once summer really hits, I expect we'll just open windows to keep temperatures down, so our gas usage should come way, way down - and as a result, our budget payments should exceed our usage, and things should swing the other way for us.

Let's hope for a warm spring and a mild summer.

Big installation ahead!

I installed curtain hold-back hooks for the bedroom's exterior door tonight. Watch out! I'm on fire! Who knows what I'll do next?

First thing we've done on the house since Sunday.

We have a yard? We DO have a yard!

The weather cooperated with us last Sunday and we made some major progress in the yard. Pictures have been posted (link at left, Day 83).

I treated myself to a Black & Decker "Leafhog" blower/vacuum. We were getting nowhere fast with the rakes, and needed something that would be a little gentler on the plants. It supposedly has an "anti-clog vortex" or something to that effect. I managed to clog if about 5 times. I filled the bag about 8 times working through the front garden, the side area, and mostly in the back yard. I also managed to dig up a bunch more stones, and attempted to put a hurtin' on the termite hill I found a little bit up the hill.

While I was doing that, my wife and mother in law were working on cleaning up the gardens themselves with rakes and various other small tools. Found some very interesting things, but also a lot of bare earth. Sure, a lot of that will cover up as things grow and bloom, but we've got a lot of work ahead of us.