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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Why fix when you can replace?

I tried finding parts for the fluorescent light fixture that quit on us last week. From what I can tell, it's the electronic ballast that's broken. The part number appears to be 49NK, and it says that a Class "P" electronic ballast is required for proper operation. I have yet to find this mythical device in Home Depot or Lowes. I may have found it online, but at $33 each per shipping, is it even worth replacing this part? For a similar price, I can replace the whole fixture with something that works better for our needs in the closet.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Why people leave their jobs

I've been at my current job for just over a year now and have no plans to leave at this time. I spent over 2 years searching for a new job, and reading Top 10 Reasons To Leave Your Job, I found myself saying "yep, that was me" on 9 out of the 10 points that it mentions. That's right, out of the top 10 reasons to leave one's job, nine applied to me at my last job. How sad is that?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Toilet progress

I was able to confirm that the piping wasn't the source of the upstairs toilet leak by pouring about a gallon right down into it with the toilet off. We think we have it finally sealed up with an extra-large wax ring. Haven't been able to fully test it yet due to my overzealousness though. I overtorqued one of the hold-down bolts and pulled it through the flange underneath, and then when I was tightening up the supply line I over torqued that and broke the plastic fitting that screwed onto the bottom of the tank. I'll get that fixed sometime this weekend.

New electrical woes

Last weekend we blew the light bulb in our bedroom closet for the second time since we moved in. No big deal, you might say? This is an 8" compact fluorescent bulb, with a service life rated at over 10 thousand hours, at a price of about $7 each. We shouldn't be blowing 2 a year when we only use it for a total of maybe 30 minutes a day.

I bought 2 bulbs Tuesday morning so that we'll always have one on hand, and discovered that even a new bulb won't fix my problem. There's something wrong in the fixture. Most likely it's the ballast, which I now need to find a replacement for. Depending on the price of that, I may just replace the whole fixture with something more reliable which I can put a dimmer switch on.

A dimmer switch in a closet, you say? Yep. The baby's changing table is in this closet and being able to turn the light way down will make it a lot easier on the eyes for those 3 AM changings.

MS Office finally catches up with OpenOffice

I see this morning on Scott Hanselman's Computer Zen that Microsoft has released an Office 2007 Add-In to allow users to save files as PDF, instead of having to go through a PDF print driver. has had this feature for as long as I can remember. Nice to see MS finally woke up to the value of this sort of feature, but it's really too bad that so many people will never know about it because it's still not built into the product out of the box.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Why no LASIK?

For several years, people have asked me pretty regularly why I haven't opted for LASIK or other eye surgery, to eliminate my need for eyeglasses. I've always had a number of excuses: it's expensive, I like how I look in glasses, I don't like stuff touching my eye, the whole idea creeps me out, and I know things can go wrong - and you only get one set of eyes.

This week, yet another solid argument. My eyes just aren't stable. I've been wearing glasses for more than half my life now. For quite a while, my prescriptions got progressively stronger and stronger. But lately I've been getting really bad headaches, especially from the computer. Finally got into the optometrist and lo and behold, my prescription has changed again! Last year, it was made weaker by two steps on the right and one step on the left. This year, the same adjustment was made.

So...right now, still no eye surgery for me. Spending that money and then having things change again and ruining my vision completely is out of the question.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

About Linux

El Gee posted a couple days ago about Linux vs. Windows, and how many people expect that they can simply install Linux on their PC and continue life the same as with Windows. El Gee has almost completely converted himself to Linux, and I commend him for it.

I first learned about Linux in 1996, when I was in college. I'd had some exposure to UNIX previously, including the school's AIX servers, but never seen it as a desktop operating system. As I learned more, I decided I wanted to learn more, and in 1998 I switched over to it almost exclusively. In an academic environment, in a Computer Science program, it really wasn't that hard - the only software I had that "required" Windows was games.

I had become a Linux fanboy. This was back in the days of NT 4 and Windows 95/98. NT 4 was still clunky, but better than 3.51. Win9x was unstable and buggy as all get-out. Linux was terrific - I had uptimes measured in weeks, not hours.

I started my first post-college job in an all-Microsoft shop, but I kept using Linux at home. My rationale was "I want to come home to something that just works." I had Windows installed, but it was sluggish on my computer; it was there so I could use Quicken, and log onto the VPN for work. I got a lot of ribbing at work about my Linux fanboyism, but I shrugged it off. Some of the things I did in Linux were harder than their equivalents in Windows, but no matter - I'm a geek, and it just meant that I had more control, right?

After a while, a couple factors conspired against me. I found myself spending more and more time working from home, which required Windows. And I found myself becoming increasingly dependent upon Quicken to track my finances. I tried some of the other money-management software that worked on Linux, but couldn't find anything that I liked as much as Quicken - ease of use wasn't there, and features I wanted weren't there. Then, the last straw. I installed an upgrade to the distribution I was using, and my system was configured in a very weird way. Try as I might, I just could not get certain things working with this new version which had previously worked.

By this time, Windows 2000 had been out for a while and was very well-established. Windows was "good enough" and let me get things done easily - somehow, Linux and Windows had flipped positions for me. And so, I removed my Linux partition. I was able to do what I needed to do in Windows just fine. It was stable, it was usable, and that was good enough for me.

I still have a Linux box in the house - never was without one, really. But it's been relegated to strictly server duty. I know that Linux has advanced quite a bit since my last bad experience, but I just don't have a compelling reason to go back at this point. I don't want to have to tinker anymore - Windows XP is now that system that "just works" for me. Maybe things will change in the future, maybe they won't - we'll see what happens.

Got a few things done today

Kind of a slow day today, had a family breakfast this morning then I came home and did a few things around the house.

  • Took one of the cats to the vet
  • Got a new set of sneakers for the car. Old tires (Falken ZE-512) were shot after 22,000 miles and one year. They come with a 60,000 mile treadwear warranty, but since I didn't get an alignment when I bought them, it didn't apply. Replaced with Goodyear Assurance TripleTreds and got an alignment while I was there. Many dollars later, I should have solid tires and handling for 50 or 60 thousand miles.
  • Installed a pair of smoke detectors
  • Removed the box spring from the bed, as my wife was starting to have trouble getting onto the tall bed now that she's over 8 months pregnant.
  • Sorted a large and aging pile of mail.
  • Scooped the litterbox
  • Hung an old coat rack in the closet for diaper bags

Lazy and ignorant

What a combination. First, the lazy: My wife picked up a couple new shirts for me about 3 weeks ago. I still haven't tried them on. I also picked up some extra smoke detectors several weeks ago, before the clocks changed, as well as some extra 9V batteries, as I wanted to have more detectors in the house, and we were overdue for changing the batteries in the ones we had.

Or so I thought. Here's the ignorant part. We only had one smoke detector installed in the house to begin with! It's in the master bedroom, and is hardwired. Good news - batteries. Bad news - no batteries. If the power goes out, we're in trouble.

So, I installed my new detectors upstairs and in the kitchen. I want to get a carbon monoxide detector for the bedroom, so I'll just get a combination unit, battery-powered, so we have all our bases covered in that room.

How in the world did I miss all this?

Another PSA

No, I'm not going to tell you to go donate blood again; I'm not eligible to do so again until January 2nd. No, this time it's CPR.

As we have a baby arriving in roughly 6 weeks, my wife and I decided it would be a good idea if we took an Infant CPR class just to be prepared. We're set to take that next weekend. But my employer also offered up a CPR and AED certification course this fall, which I took yesterday. I decided that the combination would round everything out for me so I'm prepared should the need arise.

Infant, child or adult, CPR is one of those things you hope you never need to use - and something which may not turn out as well as you'd hope. Although survival rates are up significantly since the American Heart Association revised and simplified the CPR procedures, doing CPR is not a guarantee that you will actually save someone's life. But it's better than feeling completely helpless.

If you previously had a CPR certification, get it renewed. Things have changed a lot since I got my certification about 12 years ago.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Got a lot done this weekend

With the weather being clear for the first weekend that we've been home in quite a while, I had a pretty long list of things I wanted to get done. I got some of them done, but not as much as I'd wanted to. I really ran out of steam quickly, I think because I pushed myself to do 6.5 miles on our stationary bike on Saturday morning in an attempt to get some exercise back into my system. I'm still feeling it tonight, but I'd like to start doing it a few mornings each week.

  • Mowed the lawn for the last time this year
  • Picked up most of the dead plants in the gardens we redid this year.
  • Checked and adjusted tire pressures in both cars, and in the process discovered my car's tires need to be replaced.
  • Finished the nursery armoire assembly by screwing in the brackets holding the two halves together, and installed a clothes rod for hangers.
  • Hung a rod in the doorway between the nursery and the smaller bedroom upstairs for a privacy curtain.
  • Moved all the liquids from the toolshed into the basement so they don't freeze.
  • Hung shelves in the nursery and a curtain the window in that room.

I have a whole bunch more that needs to be done in the next month, I really hope I can finish it all.

A little carpet goes a long way

We picked up the new carpets we had made up from remnants on Tuesday, but didn't get around to unwrapping them until today. Amazing. What a difference a little texture and color put on the floor can make in a room! The 5'6" foot circle we had made for the nursery could probably have been made 6 feet safely, but it still works. It really warms the room up and gives a nice cushion in the middle of the floor. We're still working out the best way to arrange the 3x6 foot piece we have for the master bedroom.

I'm actually looking forward to going back for another remnant piece for the front upstairs bedroom now.

SPAM - apparently it's everyone

Mike commented on my SPAM post from last week that his volume is increasing dramatically as well. It turns out that this is a widespread phenomenon. Seems that an increase in bot nets may be to blame. One can debate the merits of one OS vs. another or another, but regardless of your desktop OS, it all comes down to safe and responsible use of an Internet-connected computer. If you're lax in keeping up with security patches, downloading crap from random websites, opening attachments from strangers sending you email, and not keeping your home network locked behind a firewall, you're just contributing to the problem.

Unfortunately, there is very little good education out there, ISPs aren't unplugging people who are running these bot net zombies, and the average computer owner/user simply doesn't have enough reason to care. If they only understood that their own sloppiness was the reason their inbox is filling up every day with crap, they could start helping to fix the problem.

Verizon customers, check your bills closely!

About a week ago, I mentioned the bill formatting change that Verizon introduced recently. After getting a second email this weekend notifying me that my electronic statement was available online to review, I started scratching my head, and decided to take another look.

I found two very interesting things. #1, my wife's call detail is now available, whereas it wasn't a week ago. Good. #2, I looked more closely at my own details, and discovered that I had been charged for a dozen IN calls totaling 26 minutes, and I'm pretty sure that we have the IN option on our plan.

Normally, I wouldn't bat an eye at getting dinged for 26 minutes of airtime, as we rarely use our full plan allowance. However, in October I had a few work calls during peak hours and that pushed us over the edge, to the tune of $20 in overage charges.

So, a quick call to customer service (*611) was in order. She confirmed that yes, I have the IN option on the plan, and no, I definitely should not have been charged those 26 minutes of airtime. She also told me that the formatting change had caused some other funkiness, and the CSRs were going crazy because they were used to the old format and have to retrain their eyes to adjust now. I told her that my data collection had been thrown off by this change as well and she was rather sympathetic to my plight, but obviously there was nothing she could do about it (I wasn't accusatory, and she didn't get defensive). She put in the correction on my account and the credit should kick in within 3 business days. She'll even give me a phone call when it gets applied! Total call time: under 6 minutes, and no time spent waiting in an on-hold queue.

So, to recap: If you use Verizon, check your bill carefully. Make sure all your IN calls (listed in the Usage Type column on your detailed statement) have no aitrime charges associated with them. If you find that there are any of these charges, call up customer service, they should take care of it without trouble.