Thursday, February 22, 2007

We Have Monkeys!

With a new router, some help from some friendly folks over at and another visit over to Camron-Stanford House, the upstairs office there now has a reliable (and speedy) network connection. Faster than what we've got here, in fact. Packets were a-flyin'. I even got the old computer in the CSH house office hooked up to the Internet, and retrieved some data off the HDD of a dying laptop (dead battery, dead cooling fan, flakey memory, and runs Windows 98) that belongs to one of the office tenants. Some good technology mojo going.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, so I had the day off media-wise even though there was a service. But I went over to RLC to do one of my new-found favorite activities, cutting holes in walls. A member of the church is married to a guy who designs speakers for a living and he designed and helped us build some subwoofers for the sanctuary. (Apparently he even designed and built custom speakers for their wedding reception...this is someone who's serious about sound.) These bad boys aren't pretty to look at, but can communicate with elephants, and are going to give us some real low end, both for the organ in the traditional service and the bass in the contemporary service.

The intended location for the new subwoofers is in the loft above the cryroom. There's plenty of room to fit them...or would be, if I hadn't been stuffing unused pews and other stuff up there for the last year or two. So I cut a hole in the wall to loft above the choir room, so we can move the pews and other stuff over there to make room for the subwoofers. I still have some work to do like putting trim around the opening, but we'll have even more room for storage even once the subwoofers are in place. All in all, a good day of cutting holes in things.

Despite all that, raising money for the Habitat build-a-thon, working on stuff for Thrivent Builds, and a plateful of other stuff, I have managed to get some stuff done on the house. The short-term goals are all working towards demolishing the kitchen, and minimizing the amount of time we're without a working kitchen. But because of the required order of operations, some of the stuff seems odd to be working on. That said, I now have space in the basement to set up both the table saw and the chop saw, and I can once again walk past the dryer. There's still a lot of work to do to straighten things out, and once I can easily move around down there I'll be adding a new sub-panel so I can rewire various things, but progress is being made.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Pass the Boot

Last weekend they had 'firefighter appreciation day' at the Cal basketball game. They had a working fire engine plus the Random Acts fire engine (a 1967 open cab Van Pelt, used for parades and events like this). Kids of all ages seem to love fire engines. Besides the rigs, there were firefighters from Oakland, Berkeley and Contra Costa County, giveaways of t-shirts from various stations, a half-time contest, and a Berkeley firefighter rapelling down with the game ball to start things off.

But it was also a fundraising event for the daughter of the Oakland firefighter who died a couple weeks ago. I created a short video of Kevin (30 seconds to show a lifetime is not enough; I could do a nice 3 minute show of just his visits to kids at Childrens Hospital), and firefighters 'passed the boot' to collect donations during halftime. I don't know how much was raised, but lots of people gave, and gave enthusiastically.

Well, now I'm passing the boot. The cause is less personal (the recipients haven't even been selected yet), but no less noble. I'm raising money for my local Habitat for Humanity. Habitat works world-wide to eliminate poverty housing, and there's plenty of that right here in the good ol' U.S. of A.

Habitat East Bay's build-a-thon is a fund-raising event that's also fun. The goal is to raise money, but also to frame 8 houses in 4 days. Build-a-thons are hard work, but ton of fun. Think barn-raising times 8. If you want to contribute or just to learn more, check out my fund-raising page.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

How Not to Design A House

Most of yesterday was spent at a Thrivent training session. It was mostly for regular Thrivent board members, not ne'er-do-wells like me who are just there in advisory roles. (I'm the 'chapter specialist' for coordinating between Habitat for Humanity, Thrivent, and Lutheran churches in a project called Thrivent Builds. Thrivent is giving over $100 million to Habitat around the country, the catch being that Lutherans and Thrivent members in particular need to volunteer and donate some money, too.)

The fun part was that we met at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. There were Thrivent chapters from around the SF Bay Area and as far away as Santa Cruz, so it was a reasonably central place to meet. Not having grown up in the Bay Area, I had never been to it, though I'd certainly heard of it. With ticket prices over $20 for the tour, I wasn't likely to go on my own anytime soon, either. So I took advantage of the meeting to go on the tour. It's a well-built house, incorporated a variety of state-of-the-art building materials and features, and has some gorgeous leaded glass windows, tile, wood floors, and other features that modern home builders could never match without spending a small fortune.

Well, Sarah Pardee married into the Winchester family, and became heir to a large fortune. Her income was something like $1,000 a day, and she poured large amounts of it into building and rebuilding parts of her house.

But while well-built, it's beyond poorly designed. It's not designed. It's like a Halloween funhouse or drug-induced hallucination. Doorways that open on nothing. Stairways that stop at the ceiling. Other stairs that were modified to 2-inch risers, and twisted around multiple times, to accomodate Mrs. Winchester's short stature and arthritis. Rooms rebuilt multiple times. Before the 1906 earthquake, it had reached 7 stories tall. The earthquake brought the tower crashing down, trapped Mrs. Winchester alone in her bedroom for an extended period, and caused her to have the entire front of the house boarded up so she could concentrate on construction in the apparently neglected rear areas.

There are different theories about why she felt called to have builders working 24 hours a day for 38 years, but they all boil down to JPN -- she was just plain nuts.

Friday, February 09, 2007

To Do (and do, and do...)

I've been continuing to work on removing stuff in the old entryway and the kitchen in preparation for the big day, when we cease to have a functioning kitchen. But I've started to realize just how much stuff I still have to do in order to get to where I can gut the kitchen:
  • finishing re-organizing the basement storage
  • replace the galvanized plumbing in the old bathroom
  • finish the new bathroom
  • finalize design and measurements on the cabinets
  • rewire the light on the carport
  • clean up the living room and organize a "kitchen" space
  • move out of the kitchen
Some of these things, like re-wiring the carport light have to be done before the new kitchen, since the existing switch is in a wall that's going away. (And it needs to be rewired anyways, since they didn't do a very good job with it in the first place, and the conduit is rusting.) But a lot of this is easier to do before demolishing the kitchen, so I can minimize the time we're without it.

Someone on the That Home Site! forums suggested that if you've got two or more bathrooms, that during a kitchen remodel you should temporarily make one of the bathrooms into part of your kitchen space (shared duty between kitchen and bath doesn't bear thinking upon...yrrch!) But in order to do that, the new bathroom needs to be finished. And it would be helpful if the old bathroom had hot water in the sink.

A couple years back I remodeled the area around the shower in the old bathroom, and replaced the galvanized plumbing to the shower with copper. But the sink and toilet still have galvanized pipes, and the hot water to the sink stopped completely last year. Since the bathroom shares a wall with the kitchen nee entryway, it's much easier to deal with that while things are ripped up, but before the kitchen is completely redone.

Fortunately, the unknown insulation in the wall between is paper. Paper pulp insulation, to be exact. So while it's still going to be messy to remove, it means I can do it myself and not hire a licensed hazmat removal company. I'm still baffled at the uselessness of it, though. And what a buffet for silverfish, termites and other creepycrawlies.

Historical Artifacts

"No touching the historical artifacts!"
- Mrs. MacReady, The Chronicles of Narnia
So pulling them apart and drilling holes in them is probably out, too, I guess. Good thing Edmund didn't have access to power tools.

The Cat5 was successfully pulled at CSH...and there was much rejoicing. What took me a long time was getting the network card on the PC in question to work. The PC was on its second wireless card (actually an external USB widget), but it wasn't clear when the built-in NIC had last been used, if ever. Windows didn't even see it (BIOS had it enabled, but was otherwise mum on the subject), so it was kind of hard to configure. Updated drivers didn't help. I finally ended up re-flashing the BIOS with the latest version, and lo and behold, Windows finally saw it. A new router for the CSH house office is on order, and soon the packets will be a-flyin' like the monkeys in Oz.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Another Day...

No work on the house today, and still no word on exactly what that insulation I found yesterday is. I worked on church media and other bits and pieces this morning, and donated blood platelets this afternoon.

Tomorrow I'm off to Camron-Stanford House to pull some more Cat5 cable. The other cable I pulled has been a major blessing -- I haven't had a single call about connection problems since then. So I'll be spreading more joy in the form of TCP/IP packets, this time to reach one of the upstairs offices.

Yesterday I cut open the new doorway from the center hallway to the living room, and stuck a stud in the old doorway from the center hallway to the entry hall (which will now be part of the kitchen). It's going to take Katarina and I a while to get used to the change, even though it only moved the door 3' or less. But it's going to have some much bigger impacts in light and air moving through the house. With the change, it's possible to see from the kitchen all the way across the house out my office window, and from Katarina's office out the living room windows. More light, and nice cross ventilation for summertime.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What the...?

Most of my house experience is new construction with Habitat for Humanity and building the addition. I've done some work on the house before, and on other people's houses, but I haven't ripped open many walls.

So I was flummoxed when I found this material in the wall when I was working on the kitchen remodel. It's light and fluffy, and incredibly fragile -- the slightest puff of air, and pieces blow away. It's settled into the bottom of the wall cavities, so what insulating value it had is long gone. It had ties around it, as if it were in batts like modern fiberglass insulation.

And I have no idea what it is. I'm going to ask around on-line, but I've never seen anything quite like it. What's curious is that the only place I've found this in the house is in this wall near the bathroom -- and most of this wall is an internal wall, so it's clearly not for insulating against the elements. None of the external walls have any insulation anyways.

The large black pipe is the vent stack for the bathroom. It's a 4" cast iron pipe like the main sewer line.

Friday, February 02, 2007

And So It Goes

I began work on moving the doorway into the center of the house from the entryway (which will be part of the kitchen) to the living room, a grand total of about 3'. I knew there was electrical there (a switch for the hall light that can stay, and an outlet that's where the door will be), and based on work in the dining room (where cutting power to the dining room light ended up cutting power to the basement and the carport), I knew there were likely to be, um, complications.

So this time I checked which side the power was coming from, disconnected it, and tested everything that seemed like it might be down circuit from there. Expected casualties: an old outlet in my office (no big deal since I added multiple outlets on a new 20A circuit for my computer gear), an outlet in the living room on the other side of the wall from that, but no major losses. So I turned off the power, removed the outlet, covered the end of the wire with power (it'll eventually get pulled up into the attic and removed), and Bob's your uncle, right? Well...after turning the power back on we noticed that the phone which plugs into an outlet in Katarina's office was off, and a floor lamp was, too. Oops. Seems this particular circuit ran down from the attic to the hall outlet, around my entire office, then around Katarina's entire office. Fortunately the lights still work, but I kind of wonder about the outlet in the bathroom...

I also noticed that the people doing the framing again had a limited understanding of what holds a house up. As I've previous blogged about, the doorway between the dining room and living room had a couple of 2x4s stacked (not on edge) for a header. That's a large doorway, almost 6' wide, and a load-bearing wall that holds up the ceiling joists and the roof. So in a little 32" doorway in a non-load bearing wall, what do we find? A proper 4x4 header. And so it goes.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dark Side of the Rainbow

It exists. I recently borrowed a copy of The Wizard of Oz to do a little spoof for Kevin's family of him as the munchkin on the right (He really did look kind of like him. Of course, we also noticed that our friend Larry looks a lot like the cowardly lion. Who knew?)

So after finishing that up, I told Katarina about the Dark Side of the Rainbow phenomenon: that by playing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album in time to The Wizard of Oz, there's an unusually high correlation of the lyrics and tone of the music to the action on screen. I'd heard about it before, but in the 33 years of the existence of Dark Side of the Moon, I'd never experienced it.

So given the unusual presence of The Wizard of Oz DVD in the house (Dark Side of the Moon has been in my CD collection as long as I've had a CD player), we decided it was worth watching at least a little of it. We don't have a separate CD player in the living room, just a combo DVD/CD player, so I wasn't sure how easily we could pull it off. But then I remembered my aging PC has a CD drive and a DVD drive, so pop went the disks into the respective drives, and after a little fiddling to get the audio on the DVD off, we were off to see the wizard.

And it really does exist. It's not 100% (well, maybe if you consumed enough controlled substances it might be), but there is enough correlation to be interesting, and it's surreal enough to be entertaining. (But you'd have to consume a lot of controlled substances to think there's anything to the suicidal munchkin story. It's a crane wandering around the set, along with the peacock, toucan, and other birds.)

All that to say, I have actually gotten to work on the house some this week. I've begun disassembling the old front hallway in preparation for making that and the old entryway part of the kitchen. But given my adventures in Oz, cleaning up photos of the memorial for presentation to Kevin's family, and other media work, I haven't done as much as I'd like.

But darn, it feels good to be working on the house again.