Sunday, January 28, 2007

Death, Take a Holiday

Progress on the house in the last couple weeks has been limited to about 15 minutes of disassembling the old French doors from the dining room, plus the new gutters that LeafGuard installed. It's been a variety of things keeping me from the house, but the most recent was a sad one. I volunteer with Oakland Firefighters Random Acts of Kindness, doing a variety of things (tech support, photography, media creation, home repairs, valet parking, etc.)

Last week, an Oakland firefighter fought a house fire on Friday night, and went to the gym to "work the smoke out" when he went off-shift Saturday morning. He collapsed, and despite efforts of the gym staff and then the fire department, he died. He was only 47, which no matter how you slice it, was too young for such a great guy. At least 999 other people agree, since the church filled up with family, friends and firefighters from all over the state, and hundreds had to listen to the overflow speakers outside. Kevin Reed was a big volunteer with Random Acts, too. He was at Station 8, a few blocks from Children's Hospital, and was a regular visitor to the kids -- he was scheduled for another visit the following Monday.

So I photographed my first funeral on Friday, including fire engine procession, color guard, honor guard, etc. It's not a skill I want to get any practice at. I took almost the identical picture to the one the Oakland Tribune ran (not surprising since the Trib photographer was standing next to me at the time). Rather than repeat it, I'll show a picture that my friend Cindy from Random Acts took, which captures Kevin's spirit far better than any words I could write will:
That's Kevin with Father Jason, the Oakland Fire Department chaplain and Kevin's classmate back in high school, after a whipped cream fight during a Random Acts fundraiser at Fenton's Creamery.

You're with God now, Kevin. God, be with Kevin's family, especially his wife and daughter, his friends and co-workers. And when a boisterous guy who looks kind of like the munchkin on the right greets you at the pearly gates when it's your turn, you'll get to meet Kevin, too.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Passing the Savings Along to You

I've blogged about the 'joys' of shopping at Home Depot and the like before. To their credit, I actually encountered a friendly, helpful person, who came into the next department to show me where to find something (a faucet for a laundry sink, for my friend Cindy's mom's house; I've been working there the last several days to replace the burst water heater, repair leaky faucets and toilets, fix the new back door that was a replacement for the one kicked in by a SWAT team, etc.) A nice woman in the appliance department at the Oakland Home Depot asked me if I needed any assistance, and I asked about the laundry faucet. She not only told me approximately where to find them amongst the zillions of kitchen and bath faucets, but walked over with me to help find them. All too often questions are met with a surly "that's not my department", so this was a very refreshing change. Of course, since Home Depot's departing CEO got a $210 million severance package, I imagine I'd be a little surly if I were an underpaid, undertrained employee there, too. $210 million for not doing your job? That's the kind of job I want to get fired from.

Anyways, at a different home improvement store yesterday I bought a 10' piece of copper pipe to finish up the aforementioned water heater install. The sticker with the barcode was damaged, so the cashier had to go look at the display to get the price. She came back and quoted what I think was the right price (for copper pipe these days, a 10' section of 1/2" pipe is hecka expensive, whether for type L or the slightly thinner type M). Then said such-and-such per foot (which would be a higher total for 10 feet than what she'd just quoted). She rang things up, and Katarina noticed the grand total and said, "that doesn't seem like enough" (for either amount the cashier quoted), and the woman said "well, if you want me to charge you more...". She was in a hurry (more customers in line behind us), and seemed nervous and kind of jittery, so we left it at that. Later I looked more carefully at the receipt, I think she charged the higher price per foot, but for only one foot of it. I'll be passing the savings along to Cindy's mom, because the difference isn't worth a separate trip back to the other store.

If Home Depot, et al, would spend a little of the absurd amounts paid to execs and spread it around in more more training and more pay for their employees, they'd doubtless have better employee retention, not to mention happier employees and happier customers. I just ask for the opportunity to try this plan once, then whether it works or not, it's OK to fire me, with say, 20% of the former CEO's severance package.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

They Came, They Measured, They Extruded

Today the first LeafGuard guy showed up to fabricate the gutters. In theory the install crew will be here tomorrow to put them up along with the downspouts. Given we've already got them on the existing house and are just getting them for the addition, it's a pretty small job, so it didn't take him long. I helped a bit, just so I could watch the process. And watching the process reminded me of part of why I don't do the gutters myself. Extruding seamless gutters takes some specialized equipment, and some practice using it.

Of course, tomorrow's crew will remind me of the other reason I don't do it myself. It's a pain in the posterior to install gutters and downspouts, even more of a pain than painting. Getting ladders in the right places so you can reach the gutters but not get in the way of putting up the gutters is not an easy task. So this is one of the few jobs I'm happy to pay someone else to do.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green

Kermit the Frog had it right. There are a lot of 'green' things that are hard. It's hard to get out of your car and ride a bike or take mass transit (even if those are a generally a lot cheaper). It's hard to find truly green building materials; there's not as much variety yet, and in some cases they're more expensive (though in most cases those things pay for the difference over time).

But a really easy green thing to do is use compact fluorescent lights instead of incandescent lights. It's hard to spell, so call them CFLs and say floor-ess-uhnt. And you don't have to spell it when you grab a package of them at your local hardware store. Recently, Seth Godin challenged bloggers to push the benefits of CFLs, as only 6% of the households in the U.S. are using them.

They take less energy than incandescents. Despite having a small amount of mecury in them, they put less mercury into the environment because burning coal for power (which is where large amounts of the power in the U.S. comes from) puts out (literally) tons of mercury. They give off less heat (not a big deal in winter, but no sense making your A/C or fans work harder than they have to in summer). They last longer so you don't have to get that step ladder out so often. Unlike fluorescent lights of old (though the long tube ones are still this way), they come on immediately and don't flicker.

And despite a higher up-front cost, over their lifetime they'll save an average of $66 each. We have a fairly small house, and I can think of 30 bulbs -- $1,980 of savings.

What's not to like? (OK, those annoying plastic blister packs they come in, for one.) But it can be easy to be green.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Let There be Heat!

L.J. Kruse sent Patrick the giant mouse (as our cats know him, because he makes interesting noises under the floor) out this morning to cut into the plenum and hook up the duct to the bedroom in the addition. It happened sooner than expected, because we were lower on the priority list than people who have no heat at all. Given some of the cold weather we've been having, it's quite understandable. Nothing like the plains or back East, but some sub-freezing temps at night in the valley areas. Patrick did great work, as always. He was the one who installed the forced air furnace a couple of years ago. So now we have heat (besides passive solar, that is) in the bedroom!

And thanks to the good folks at the Healthy Heating site, I've figured out more of what I need to do for radiant heating in the bathroom and kitchen. Katarina's excited about the idea of a warm bathroom on those early mornings. The kitties would be excited if they knew the implications, and would probably demand it for the entire house (Star is sleeping on my monitor as I type this) as they're real "heatonists".