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

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Got spam?

A number of people I've talked to have noticed that their SPAM volume has increased over the last month to 6 weeks. We aren't sure if it's due to the recent Spamhaus legal activity, or just a natural increase in traffic. But frankly, I'm sick of it. Better than 80% of my incoming messages are SPAM now. I've had to redirect our family domain's catchall address to my GMail account, but that hasn't helped much, as I am getting a lot of junk to legitimate addressed too.

We don't have SpamAssassin on our mail host, but I've been thinking about asking whether it can be installed.

I wish it was easier to apply simple filtering rules, but that really requires that senders take extra steps. Things like GPG-signing or encrypting messages would go a long way. SPAMmers won't take the time (or may not even be able to) GPG-sign messages, so if everyone signed legit email, we could just filter anything that isn't signed. This would be a huge anti-phishing advantage for financial institutions as well - if it's not signed, they didn't send it, so don't click anything. I'd gladly give my banks my public key so they can send me 100% encrypted email, to make things that much more secure. I know that financial institutions know about GPG/PGP, as I know of several which use the technology to securely send system-generated email for transaction data. Getting that message through to Customer Service, however, is a chore.

Alas, I seem to know at most 4 people who understand and would actually apply GPG measures on their email. It's not terribly difficult to understand, really. And there are tools out there like Windows Privacy Tools to help make working with it easier.

Format change

Lately I've been trying to download our Verizon Wireless call data on a monthly basis and get it into an Access database to do some reporting - mostly so that we can take the appropriate tax deductions for our use of our phones for work purposes. My wife more or less is required to have a cell phone by her employer, and she gets a monthly reimbursement, but I think we may be able to claim some of the difference between her reimbursement and the monthly bill on our taxes as well.

Anyway, I logged into the Verizon Wireless site this morning to pull our latest billing cycle data, and they've gone and changed the format of the CSV downloads that they offer. This, of course, requires a change on my part so that I can keep using the data.

Why do they insist upon doing this? They aren't providing any different data, they've just changed the data structure and presentation. No longer is "PM" used - it's "P", which breaks my date/time parsing. Phone number are no longer (123)456-7890, they're 123-456-7890.

Are they doing this to foil screen-scrapers and other automatic downloaders? Or is it because they don't think people are trying to use the data, thus they can change it at will?

IE funkiness

I discovered something funky with Internet Explorer 6 a couple weeks ago. As I've noted here before, I'm wriging my documenation for my project at work in HTML wherever I can. I printed my full spec document out, and found something really weird that I'd never seen before.

I set a text-indent on paragraphs for readbility and style, via CSS. Everything looks great on screen. When I printed the document, I found that for any paragraph that spanned a page break, IE indented the text of the paragraph's first line on the second page!

It's not a huge deal, but I found it curious. I haven't tested with IE7 yet (IE7 isn't allowed at work, and I don't want to mess with my system at home), nor have I been able to chase down reports of this behavior elsewhere online.

Bug, or proper behavior per the W3C spec?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Kids, clean up after yourselves

Forgot to post this when I posted about my drywall patching earlier. When I last worked on drywall, I didn't exactly clean up all the tools, and as a result the knife had a good coating of joint compound on it, and the mud tray looked like one of the valleys you might see in pictures of Mars - craggly, rough, a total mess.

I spent a good 20 minutes chiseling the crud off the knife and attempting to clean up the mud tray. The knife cleaned up OK, but the tray is still a total mess. It might be a complete loss. Not sure how best clean up even a brand new one. Maybe line it with plastic wrap so I can just throw that out when I'm done?

Patching things up

Now that we have all our wiring run (I hope) for the family room electrical, it was time to patch up the various holes this weekend. For the holes we put in the walls, some wire mesh and fiberglass tape was enough. But I had put a pretty sizeable hole in the ceiling where the fan is going to end up. Only one side of the whole has a joist to screw drywall into, so I picked up a Sheetrock repair kit. It includes some joint tape, some dry joint compound (requires water & mixing), a spreader, and 4 clips. The clips are perforated metal which attach to the existing drywall and your patch, with hooks on one side. Hook the clip onto the existing drywall, and screw through the drywall to secure. Then slide your patch panel in place, and again screw through the patch panel into the clip. Grab the hooks with pliers and snap off, and you've got a perfect patch.

So, right now all my joint compound is drying, I'll put another coat on tomorrow night and possibly one more to finish off, and we'll be in good shape to finish the room off once the electric is hooked up.

Cheap Rug

We bought an area rug last month for the family room, but were still on the lookout for something for the nursery, and maybe a few other pieces as well. Trouble is, "real" area rugs tend to be a little expensive.

Out and about yesterday, we decided on a whim to check out a flooring store. We were looking for a 5 to 6 foot diameter round rug, as we thought it would be unique, and make good use of the floor space without interfering with the furniture. They were short on round rugs, and they were quite expensive. Then the salesman took us over to the remnants section. He had a 6x9 rectangular navy blue remnant for only $79! Good deal. We got to talking, and decided that rather than waste the leftovers, we could make a smaller rug for our bedroom as well.

So, for under $150 (binding for the edges is $2/linear foot) we've got 2 carpets taken care of.

We'll definitely look at remnants for the next piece rug we need. There isn't as much selection in patterns (if any), but the pricing is hard to argue with.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Who needs a driveway?

Work on our street has been progressing. Thursday, we both took a half day as we were driving quite a distance to attend a wedding over the weekend. When my wife arrived home, she found that the road was completely torn up, and the crew had started laying gravel. Trouble was, they had a big pile right in front of the house, and a large ditch between the street and our driveway. Thus, she was unable to get into the driveway and had to park down the street.

When I arrived, the large gravel pile had moved, but the ditch was still there. One of the guys operating a small bulldozer/shovel machine saw me, drove over to my car, shrugged, and then said "sorry, road's closed, where are you going?" I pointed at the house, told him it was mine, and he said "oh, I'll go build you a driveway" and in under 5 minutes the gap was filled and I rolled right up. When we left later, I caught him and told him we'd be shuffling cars, and then he could dig it all back up and leave it that way till end of day Friday. He said it wasn't needed, they only needed to re-dig the trench on Tuesday when the granite curb was scheduled to come in.

Fast-forward to this evening. I arrived home before my wife, and found a Road Closed sign at the end of the street. I bypassed that, as usually these signs mean "closed, except for local traffic" and the other end wasn't closed at all. What did I find? An even bigger ditch in front of the driveway, and the crew had gone home for the night already! I looped around and stopped at the village hall to get some answers, but they were closed. On my return trip to the house, I was tailed rather suspiciously, by the Code Enforcement Officer (only found out after I had parked and he had gone by). I resigned myself to parking across the street.

I called the town highway superintendent to find out what was going on. I was under the impression that we'd be informed well in advance of any disruptions like this. He's going to check on that. In the meantime, we're out of our driveway until Wednesday. The ditch is for the curb. Installation starts at 7 AM on Tuesday. After installation, they backfill with concrete and that has to set for a day. Then in another week or two, we're locked out again for a day or so, when they pour the new sidewalk.

I'm not upset that they're doing all this work - I'm actually pretty happy to see the improvements made. What I do take issue with is that we're not informed of these disruptions to the driveway and water service. Notifications which I believed we'd be given when these activities took place. I'm just glad this is happening now, and not in December when we have a baby to manage around it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Here's a nice surprise!

About 2 weeks ago, I posted about the various rebates I was sending paperwork in for. I was concerned that I wouldn't get my $65 Lowe's rebate for the delivery charges on our washer & dryer. Well, we arrived home late last night from a weekend away at a wedding, and what was waiting for us? A $65 check from Lowe's!

Whew! We lucked out on that one.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Progress and Congress

After all, "con" is the opposite of "pro", right?


  • Wiring in the living room took a huge leap forward. We managed it with minimal holes in the drywall. I had forgotten that we had run power from up high on the west wall down to the outlet on that side and across to the brick wall for the TV. We also learned that the outlet at the north end of the room was still live, as it was on its own circuit for the washer & dryer when they were in the family room. We tied the 14/2 Romex that was run across the ceiling into that other wiring in a junction box, replacing the old wire that had been used. Then we pulled the baseboard and ran another line from the washer/dryer outlet to the newer one below that junction box. Everything's live there now.

    The east wall was a little tougher. The wiring in the wall is a mess, so we decided to just pull new Romex to the right place and save the rest for the electrician. Pulled the quarter round and inserted a smaller piece of wire so that we could locate the right place to run the Romex from below. Then we punched a hole in the wall above that to fish the wire from. And then...into the crawlspace I went. I'd been dreading this for a while because it's so hard to get in and out of there. But you gotta do what you gotta do. I found my guide wire deep in the crawlspace, right by an end wall and tucked behind the air duct. I had my assistant shine a light down from above and was shocked to find that there was a gap between the subfloor and the brick wall. I had originally thought that I would have to drill up into the wall cavity but this was a lifesaver. I was able to run the Romex up through that gap, and once complete, we had a relatively easy time fishing the line the rest of the way up the wall. Electrical rough work done, now I just have to arrange for our electrician to come out to finish up.

  • While I was in the crawlspace, I retrieved the coaxial cable I'd stuffed down there for the TV. I also installed some more pipe insulation on the hot water supply for the master bath.
  • In a somewhat unexpected move, our sister in law and my mother in law decided that they should finish painting the master bedroom closet with my wife supervising.
  • We moved a bunch of baby furniture into the house.


The upstairs toilet looked like it had leaked some into the floor under it, so we bought a new wax ring for it and attempted replacement today. It seemed like we had installed everything properly, we heard the wax being "crushed" under the toilet, but upon first flush, it leaked pretty badly. We're afraid there may be a problem with the cast iron pipe itself up there. That requires a plumber, and I'm afraid, a lot of money. Ugh.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Running water is overrated

For the second time in as many days, I came home to messed-up water service. I arrived at 6:00, and my wife said it had been weird for at least 15 minutes already. Checked a couple faucets. Yep, tons of air in the lines, and a chlorine smell. The toilet hadn't filled since its last flush. Seeing the force with which the air was coming through the faucets, I shut off the water to the toilet. The last thing I need is a disintegrated fill mechanism or worse. We sat tight for a little while, keeping ourselves occupied, thinking things would be OK in a while.

Around 6:45, we tried again. No water anywhere. Just some noise. A few minutes later, I tried again, and started getting some water.

At this point, I decided to stop risking our internal fixtures and plumbing, and decided to try the garden hose outside. It sputted and spat for a bit, then it went dead. No water, no air, nothing. I tried around 7:00, and it fired nothing more than a large, loud, cloud of mist. No real liquid water, just mist. The crew working on the mains came over and were shocked that I was still getting so much air. They had left a fire hydrant open for 90 minutes to flush the system, and I should not have had air in my lines at that point.

About 7:15 I guess, I tried again, and got a little water finally. The crew came back. They were still surprised. Everyone else was getting solid streams of water, no air. So I let it run for a while and after about 5 minutes, started getting consistent water flow.

Then it was on to the inside fixtures. I opened up the kitchen faucet and it sputtered for a while. In the basement, I could hear pipes all around me crackling with air pockets, so I shut off the water to the back end of the house and the kitchen cleared up in a hurry. Reopened those valves and went back to the bathroom and turned those loose. What a racket.

There was lots of crud coming out of the lines too. I was told that they had hooked up to some older lines which hadn't been run in a while, thus all the sediment build-up and subsequent flush. I really hope this isn't going to be a regular event while this road work is going on. It's really inconvenient. Supposedly we were to be getting notified anytime water service was going to be disrupted, but that has yet to materialize.

One good outcome of all of this: traffic control. They've ripped the street up so bad that it's just one giant muddy, rutty, pot-holed mess. People are avoiding using the street as a bypass for main street, and those who do come down here are going much, much slower.

Monday, October 02, 2006

More kudos on the project

My project at work has been moving along. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't understand. In fact, there's a fortune cookie fortune taped to a whiteboard in one room that sums it up quite well:

If you understand what you're doing, you aren't learning anything.

Following that, I must be learning near-infinite amounts.

Anyway, we've brought a consultant in to help get things back on track, help with documentation, planning, testing, and more. I met with him last week so he could find out where my portion of the project stands, what kind of documentation we have, and so on. He was pleasantly (and visibly) surprised when I told him I had all my documentation in Subversion and could recall any version from any point in time. He was genuinely happy to see that someone was approaching the requirements documentation and test cases the way that I was. Great. I feel pretty good now. I thought that was the end of it.

But it wasn't. In my meeting today with our developer and a member of IT management, the manager told us that a lot of the project documentation was in rough shape, but the consultant had specifically mentioned the documents that we've been maintaining for test cases, specs, etc. as being very well done. Some portions of the project have been done with little more than cocktail napkin sketches. The developer and I looked at each other, and he spoke first, saying that we were doing all the documentation at least as much for our own sanity as for the benefit of others. I have to agree. If we weren't being so detailed and rigorous about our specifications, we'd be going mad with confusion. We'd be completely lost without the history tracking and collaboration support which Subversion affords us.

Ultimately, my hope is that by setting a good example with this project, we can get version control and other tools more heavily used throughout the organization. But first I need to get through this project alive.

Tired of trim

I laid down more 11/16" quarter-round trim yesterday. Covered the master bedroom closet with unpainted wood. The gaps around the edges of the floor were just hideous. This really tightened it up.

Then it was on to the nursery upstairs. We had pre-painted several sticks of the moulding to match the baseboards, and I started in with that. I got all but one side of the window, and half of one wall, completed with the material on hand. We still have one stick to paint and then we can hack that up and nail it down.

I figure I've cut and installed well over 100 feet of this stuff, all with a $20 Craftsman miterbox and handsaw. I'm getting tired of doing it that way. I should have just bought a real power miter saw. Maybe with my $50 gift card that I'm getting from Lowe's. It's that or an air compressor so I can use pneumatic tools.

Water Works

What a mess. They're still working out the kinks with our new water main, it seems. They did the hookup last Thursday. Apparently something got flushed into the line between the water main and our meter, and the crew had to come in and disconnect us briefly to fix that. Then, as expected, the water in the house sputtered some as we flushed air bubbles out of the lines running to each. All weekend, we had cloudy water and the toilet made odd noises. I tried adjusting the fill mechanism, but with only limited success.

I came home tonight and the toilet sounded like it was going to explode upon flushing. Water was sputtering again. The upstairs shower ran orange with rust for a couple minutes while I cleared those lines out. Toilet filling either takes forever, or runs hard enough that it continuously uses the overflow tube.

If things don't clear up within the next day or so, we'll have to call the town to find out what's going on. This just ain't right. I may just replace the toilet fill mechanism anyway as I'm sure I've misadjusted it horribly and it's probably in rough shape as a result.

In other water news, I finally tracked down the source of the water on the bathroom floor by the shower. The silicone bead where the surround and the "tub" was leaking. I pulled up the old, dried it well, and laid down a new bead. Still needs a touch-up, but it's far, far better than it was before.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Rebates, rebates, rebates

I could kick myself. I went through my Lowe's paperwork today to fill out the rebate forms for my "free" waster/dryer delivery and my $50 gift card. Only to find out that the delivery rebate requires a copy of the signed delivery sheet. Which I threw out. Oh well, at least I'll still get the $50 Lowe's gift card.

Yesterday, we discovered that the Bosch wipers on my wife's car were in bad shape. They didn't wipe well at all. So we stopped at Pep Boys while we were out and, after much searching of the store (they had wiper blades scattered everywhere), I found the "real" rack and settled on a set with the Rain-X brand. I ended up going for their most expensive model as there was a buy one get one free mail-in rebate deal on those. So, $34.98 of wipers becomes a respectable $17.99. I normally like SilBlade wipers (I've had 3 sets, including one set on my current car which went on the week I bought it), but have trouble finding them locally and the metal bits tend to rust pretty quickly. These Rain-X blades look to be pretty good.