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

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A couple yards of yard

After pulling the ivy out of the front "yard" a month ago, we hadn't done much else with the space and weeds began to take over. Last night and tonight, my wife weeded it all, and then we put in some black landscaping edging around the roses, tree, and irises. Filled those areas with some very red cedar mulch (I think it's artificially colored, but we wanted something bright as it's on the north side of the house and not well-lit.

Also put grass seed down and some fertilizer, and then watered. Let's hope it's a good start on some green. Even if we end up replacing the grass with a different variety, or even some sod, this should be a good placeholder.

Border patrol

I finally got to watch squirrels sneaking into the attic tonight. They aren't coming in through the eaves. It's the vents up on the roof. Watched 4 jump right in there.

I'm hoping that I can put up some fine wire mesh around the vents to keep them out. Just need to find something woven tightly enough that they can't get their heads through.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yet another electrifying setback

Our electrician came out tonight to help out with the final wiring and hookup of the ceiling fan/light for the family room. The short version: we won't have things hooked up for at least a month.

Yeah, it's ugly. When I cut the old lamp down in February, the insulation on the wires was bad. It crumbled in my fingers. I figured it was no big deal, since we weren't going to use it, right? Wrong! The light switch was on a "switch leg" - basically, it only completed a very long circuit to trigger the light, and the "guts" of the system were up in the junction box.

You know, the junction box I hacked down without caring about preserving wires, since I wasn't going to need them? Yeah, that was brilliant.

Turns out that I more or less severed the nexus of the room's electrical system. After about 90 minutes of tracing/testing wires, head-scratching, and just trying to piece together exactly how it all worked, our fearless electron-tamer thought he could splice everything back together and make the new 14/3 Romex that I ran for the switch into a new switch leg, and everything would be great. He got out one of his tools and started in on the BX armored cable. The insulation crumbled inside the sheild. Things just went from worse.

He estimated the wire's age at 70-80 years. Seen plenty of it, but never had the insulation crumble. It doesn't crumble with age, he said. It's heat. Heat from running the circuit on a heavy load. This wire was a ticking time bomb.

So, what to do now? He gave us two options. Either way, things need to get fixed a lot more thoroughly than we expected. Option 1, we give him a week and he re-runs everything, fishes new lines, and gets the existing services working with new wire behind the scene. But he doesn't want to hand us a $1500-$2000 bill for that. Option The Second, we rip some drywall down, and fish some new 14/2 Romex down either side of the room (east/west), into the crawlspace, and back to the panel. We then run some more up to the ceiling and to the fan, and the 14/3 that I ran becomes a switch leg.

The room is set up thusly:

  • West side: 2 outlets, plus a junction box mating the old service to the outlets up near the ceiling.
  • East side: 1 outlet, one switch connected to the exterior light, 1 outlet on the exterior wall.
  • South end: 2 outlets in bad places. We have no use for them.

The plan: Abandon all the old wire. The south end outlets will be removed and drywall patched over the holes. On the west side, the outlet most directly tied to the old wiring (it's directly below the junction box) will now get its power source from new 14/2 run into the crawlspace. It will also send a branch up to the ceiling fan. On the east side, we rip the drywall down, replace the indoor socket and switch, and run service down the wall into the crawlspace. Then tie the 2 lines in the crawlspace together and run them to the panel. This also gives us the ability to split the room into two circuits, which I may do since it's all 14 gauge wire.

You do kind of have to know the room to understand this. This post was at least as much for my own benefit, to further solidify my understanding of the plan - learning by repetition. Romex (all copper) is getting expensive, so I'm going to buy a large amount , probably 250 feet, so that I have enough for the job and get a decent per-foot price out of it. We'll need more drywall, as what I have left won't be enough. And various other things I'm sure.

I just realized that the east wall is probably 3/8 inch drywall, like the west wall was. I have 1/2 inch. So do I do more of the wall than is needed, to minimize the transition areas on the seams between the two thicknesses? Maybe I should.

I shoulda gutted the whole room while I could still justify it. But dealing with the several hundred pounds of cellulose fiber insulation in the ceiling really would have sucked.

UPDATE: I just realized that the light in the pantry is also routed (somehow) through the family room. Once we have the family room rewired, the pantry will still be dark. Guess this is a good time to run that light off the pantry circuit instead of the family room.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Nope, not the dogs (I dragged my ass out of bed at 0515 this morning and the jerk never showed up with them). While I was changing after getting home from work, I spotted one of our woodchuck friends outside the bedroom door. By the time I got the camera fired up, he was preparing to duck under the toolshed.

This is the little one.

The price of being cheap

A couple weeks ago, I was down to my last Gilette Mach 3 Turbo razor cartridge and it was getting pretty dull (I usually get about a week out of one). These things cost $8-$10 per 4-pack - pretty expensive. We were in Wal-Mart shopping that evening and the price was on the high end. But I needed new blades.

Then I saw their "Persona" branded 3-blade razors. Refills were about half the price of Gillette, and the handle plus 2 blades was about $5. So I thought I'd give them a shot. What a horrible decision. The razors were terrible. They did a bad job and they were incredibly uncomfortable.

I suffered my 2 weeks, as I wanted to give them a chance (any change requires an adjustment period) and didn't want to pay for an "overlapping" set of cartridges (buy more that aren't compatible with the current handle, while I still have usable ones left). Now I'm back to the Gilettes. That comfort and performance is worth the extra $4/month. And my face thanks me for it.

OTOH, the "King of Shaves" shaving gel that Wal-Mart sells does do a nice job.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dog Update - it's getting interesting.

I contacted the town animal control officer today, and learned volumes about our canine visitors. Actually, I spoke with his wife first.

She confirmed for me that yes, the village does have a leash law. I started telling her about the dogs that we had this morning, starting with the German Sheperd. She then said "and the other one is a pit bull, right?" Woah, waitaminit...pit bull?

OK, yeah, it makes sense. It was an aggressive dog, which matches with my first thought of "rottweiler mix". But it had bluish-grey, very short fur. That's not consistent with rottweilers. Looking back on it, I think I can see some pit bull in that dog I saw. Granted, I didn't look at it very closely - I was switching my vision between the pit bull, the GSD, the owner, and making sure my escape route remained clear. But it makes sense.

So, I related to her the whole story - we saw the dogs roaming free, right up to the house, one defecated in the back yard, I asked the owner to please keep them out of the yard, his weak response, the whole thing.

She then told me that I'm at least the 4th person to call about these dogs, and that they've been trying to take action against the owner for over a year. Trouble is, the previous 3 callers were single women, and the dog's owner isn't exactly the nicest guy - she thinks these women had been intimidated out of signing a formal complaint.

She also stated that they'd tried to have a police officer sit on the block to watch for them, and then he could file the complaint, but certain legal resources were concerned that it could be construed as entrapment (how, I have no idea). The pit bull had been "locked up" in the past by her husband, and the owner actually broke into the Humane Society and liberated it - a stunt which earned him 3 years of probation.

On top of all this, the dogs' owner also knows the animal control officer's "day job" schedule quite well, and actually schedules his dog walks such that he only does it when the officer isn't in town at all!

I got a wealth of information from the animal control officer's wife, and my eyes were wide open. I thanked her profusely for the information, and we closed the call with me arranging for her husband to call me between 4 and 5 to discuss the matter in a more official capacity.

My cell rang at 4:01 PM. I'm liking this guy already. I restated what I observed, and he filled me in with the backstory, including some more details that his wife hadn't told me (I sprinkled these in above, as I don't recall exactly what each of them told me individually). I told him I wasn't looking to stir anything up, just to make sure that laws are being followed and that the neighborhood remained safe. He, on the other hand, wanted to make sure that this recurring problem would be taken care of.

We continued to review the situation. I told him that while the pit bull hadn't made a move toward me, he was acting aggressively, barking profusely directly at me. I don't want it to sound like I'm prejudiced against this breed, but let's face it, pit bulls have a reputation for a reason. The officer concurred, and told me that any dog's behavior is a product of his environment. Good owners have good dogs. Idiot owners have idiot dogs. He allowed me to draw my own conclusions from that. In a similar vein, he informed me that although the owner does not have a criminal record, and there have been no complaints filed against him personally for harming or threatening to harm people or property, he does have a reputation as being a very strong intimidator. And I should be aware of this before taking the "case" too far - if it's truly going to be a worry, I may want to take that into consideration.

So, next steps. The animal control officer said that he was concerned that just a signed written formal complaint may have trouble when it reaches the bench, for reasons unknown to him (it should be enough to at least start a new round of action). The defecation would be tough to take to court anyway - I can't just point at a pile of poo and say "that dog did it". I suggested to him that I could take pictures, and he was nearly giddy. He wanted to make sure that it wasn't a bother - I told him "I've got a digital camera and they were right outside the bedroom window. It costs me nothing except getting up half an hour earlier." I even told him that this morning I could have gotten a terrific picture of the german shepherd squatting right in the yard, which would take care of the defecation situation too!

We left it at this: I'll try to get pictures this week. If I can't get anything, we'll attempt to continue with the written complaint Monday or Tuesday. The officer was very happy to hear that someone was seriously interested in pursuing the matter; as I noted above, this has been a nuisance for quite a while.

I started considering "protection" - not a firearm, but at least some kind of repellent to keep on hand in case things get ugly. My first thought, of course, was pepper spray. However, according to Wikipedia, pit bulls are not adversely affected by capsaicin. So that thought's right out. I'll have to talk to our postman on Saturday and find out what it is that he carries. And ask if he's seen anything. I'm also going to let our neighbor with young children know what's going on so that she's aware, and have her keep an eye on things for me.

Further updates as events and conditions warrant.

Under Construction

We got a notice of a town meeting last week to review/discuss the reconstruction of our street, so I decided to attend and see what all the hubbub was about. It'll be nice. They won't be changing the width of the road, but they are ripping the whole thing up, replacing the water mains right up to the branches going into each house, putting in granite curbs, and widening the sidewalk in places.

This also means that we'll get a new driveway "apron" (between the sidewalk and street). Since ours right now is more dirt than tarmac, that's a win. The curb work will mean that the strip between the road and sidewalk will be rehabbed - right now it's, again, dirt and rock. And, the curb should deter people from parking right in front of the house. Excellent!

Work will begin sometime in August. The final topcoat goes down in the spring. It'll be nice. And should cut the traffic down considerably for at least a month.

Bad dogs!

When we first moved in, we noticed there was a pair of dogs occasionally in the back yard, early in the morning. We even saw their owner watching them as they roamed around, unleashed. After a while I got fed up with it, and resolved to start calling animal control if I saw it again. But I didn't see them for a long time after that decision.

Until this morning. Woke up, walked over to turn off my alarm, and there one of the dogs was, right outside our family room/kitchen/bedroom windows! Then it went off into the backyard and squatted down. Wonderful. Figuring that the owner was nearby, I strapped on my Tevas and went out front to find him. And there he was, in front of our neighbor's house.

I asked, very nicely, "can you please keep your dogs out of my yard? They've been leaving 'stuff' and we're trying to get the yard cleaned up for our nephews." His response was half-assed, at best: "well, usually by the time I get here they've already done it."

During the whole conversation, his German Sheperd was roaming around in front of me, and even came up on the front porch! The other dog, which looked to be a mix of Rottweiller and Greyhound, was alternately walking around and standing in the garden by the driveway, barking at me. Very aggressive, and isn't fixed either. I didn't let that dog out of my sight until I had the door closed behind me.

I was going to wait till the second incident to call animal control/code enforcement about it, but given his disinterest in keeping the dogs out of the yard, I'll call today. I know the village has a leash law, and there's gotta be something about not cleaning up after your animals.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

But they don't work for me

Frustration follows.

My primary function at work is to manage changes to the application I'm responsible for. Due to Sarbanes-Oxley constraints, I'm not allowed to touch data (can't even run read-only queries), I need special permission to make trivial code changes, etc. I write specs, I write test plans, and I sign papers.

So, obviously, I'm dependent upon others. I have a non-developer (helpdesk tech) deploying new version into the various environments. I have a non-technical person (but they know the business inside and out) doing the testing and reviewing. I have a contractor offsite doing the development. They're my eyes, ears & hands as things get worked on. I rely on them to make things happen.

But they don't work for me. I have no one that reports directly to me. Well, the contractor does, kind of, I guess.

So I'm at the mercy of the priorities of everyone else. Things can't get deployed because helpdesk is shorthanded. Things can't get tested because my tester has things due on a very specific schedule. I'm responsible for things getting completed, but I can't do anything personally to make them happen.

Frustration will continue, I'm sure.

Is 1280x800 enough?

The long-awaited MacBook was released today, the replacement for the 12" PowerBook and the iBook line. I've been waiting for this as it's the only way I'll be able to satisfy my MacLust and desire for a laptop all in one shot without having to skip a mortgage payment.

The display is 13.3", and the native resolution is 1280x800. I have some serious concerns as to whether that'll be enough. Not just for me - for lots of other people too. 1280 wide is great - both my home and work LCDs run that natively. But at 800 pixels, you're giving up 204 or 20% of the height. That's nothing to take lightly.

Sure, the external video can go up to 1920x1200, and at home I'm sure I'd have my current LCD plugged in to take advantage of that (with, of course, the $19 mini-DVI to DVI adapter, and a DVI cable), but on the road...will 800 pixels be enough?

I can't buy for a few months anyway, fortunately. But if I'm going to be doing photo & video editing on whatever laptop I get, maybe I need to go Pro, or (ugh) Windows?

Monday, May 15, 2006

We live in a zoo

Here's the animal tally so far:

  • Squirrels in the attic
  • Birds in the master bath wall
  • Something (we think a woodchuck) under the toolshed
  • A few carpenter bees
  • Woodpecker going after said carpenter bees.
  • The occasional mouse
  • Our 2 cats

We think the squirrels were out tonight and may have gotten stuck. A small one attacked the kitchen window and was hanging off it for a couple minutes. He was trying desperately to get back on the roof to go "home" but couldn't get up there. His mother was trying to help. We have no idea where they ended up.

We found evidence of something under the shed last night when we got home from a weekend away. Today, my wife called to tell me that there was a woodchuck right outside the bedroom door, staring in at her, and one of the cats was right there staring back.

The carpenter bees I think I may have knocked out w/ some spray on Friday. There are probably a few lingering, but we'll get it taken care of.