Sunday, November 30, 2008

Need a place to live?

East Brother Island

Here's a different option. OK, sure, you have to run a bed and breakfast, there's no pizza delivery, and you need a commercial boat operator's license, but what a view! It's even sort of green -- solar panels, rainfall collection, and a small septic system.

It's here in San Francisco Bay, and while I've seen the island, I've never visited there myself. Looks like fun, but maybe not for a career.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I was tagged by Larry at Simpson's Folly with the '7 random or weird book facts about you' meme, so here goes.

1. I learned to read early. My mom used to read to me when I was little. But at some point I was bad (who, me?) and the punishment was that she wasn't going to read to me that night. Apparently I raised such a fuss about how that wasn't fair because she knew I couldn't read myself, that the next day we went to the library and she got me some first grade readers, showed me the basics, and off I went.

Bacon Memorial Library

2. Speaking of the library, my great aunt June was librarian in the next town over, at the Bacon Memorial Library. Part of the building is a fugly 1960's era brick thing, but part is the Bacon house from 1897. Having your aunt run the library means no limits on checking out books, something that I took full advantage of.

3. Growing up, one of my favorite books was Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels. He wrote about his travels around the world in a biplane called The Flying Carpet, back in the 1930s when traveling anywhere was a big deal. Plain and simple writing geared towards kids, it gave me my first look at the bigger world. I think my love of geography and maps comes in no small part from reading this book countless times when I grew up.

4. Currently I'm reading Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff. It's very powerful stuff, but not easy reading by any stretch of the imagination.

5. One of the coolest books I own is Dante's Divine Comedy with the Doré Illustrations. I've only ever read Dante's The Inferno, first back in high school (thanks, Mr. Appleyard) which is interesting and wickedly funny in parts. But the Doré illustrations (c. 1857) add a certain je ne sais quoi that a more modern style of artwork never could.

6. Have I mentioned I love books and reading? Besides learning to read early, I've always read a lot. My sister Kirsten and I both use to stay up past our bedtimes, reading under the covers with a flashlight if necessary. In 5th grade my teacher gave awards at the end of the year, making sure to give something to everyone. My award? The most book reports, for writing over 100 during the year (the other likely award was 'paying the least attention', because I was bored out of my skull at that point in school.) These weren't 5th grade-level books, either. While I don't remember most of what I read that year, I do remember reading Peter Benchley's Jaws. I covered it with green construction paper, because, being a sensitive 5th grader, I was embarrassed about the naked girl on the cover.

7. My favorite genre of book is science fiction. I love books of all sorts, and K and I own hundreds (thousands? we've never counted) but the largest single category of books I've bought and read are science fiction. From Asimov to Zelazny, from Brin to Vinge, I love science fiction. Some people lump fantasy in with science fiction, and I love a lot of fantasy books (e.g., Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy is amazing, and defined the entire genre, laying the foundation for countless books, movies and games), but the two are pretty different.

Now I'm supposed to tag 7 other bloggers, but I'll have to think about it some as several of the blogs I had in mind have already been tagged. But hey, if you want to blog on this meme, go for it! At the very least I'll tag Pete at Corner Kick because I know he loves books and writing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Want One!

mmm...double-sidedy goodness

No, not a Bobcat. Well, OK, I do want one of those. Except I don't actually have a use for it, nor a place to park it. What I want is one of the 25-foot, double-sided, stainless steel blade tape measures from DIY Network that One Project Closer is giving away.

My current tape is showing its age. It's at least the 3rd real* tape measure I've owned (* that is, not counting little 10 foot ones, freebies on keychains, and other largely useless ones.) My tapes take a lot of abuse for someone who doesn't work in construction for a living. They've been on Mexico mission trips, to the Gulf Coast, spent countless days on local Habitat builds, and of course been instrumental in building the addition here at DIY Insanity. The DIY Network tapes are fat (and phat, as far as tape measures go). That means better extension and less likely to tear. The stainless steel tape means less likely to rust. And the double-sided part is just gravy. So this looks like a great option for my next tape.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

But Marge!

OK, it wasn't my lifelong dream, and no, it wasn't to eat world's biggest hoagie. But I have long wanted to drive a Bobcat. Alas, given the nature of our lot (a steep slope down from the road before it levels out), I was unlikely to have an excuse reason to rent one.

But today I finally got to drive one, and no rental fee required. I volunteered today at my local Habitat for Humanity. Normally I go out on Fridays, but today we had a Lutheran build day for Thrivent Builds. Well that, and I was busy yesterday finishing up the electrical work in the basement here.

Americorps trying out the playground equipment

The houses in the Edes A development are basically done. Now we're working on the common area between the houses, which will have benches, grills, picnic tables, a couple of oak trees, and a playground area. There was a playground equipment guy assembling the the structure, and half the volunteers were working on the play area, and some cool sandbag + stucco benches.

The rest of us were working on Edes B, filling in trenches where the sewer pipes had been placed for a couple of houses, in preparation for the foundations being poured. Filling in the trenches involved moving a lot of sand and dirt, so we got to use the Bobcat to load the wheelbarrows.

me driving the Bobcat

Another regular volunteer and I took turns using it, and I have to was a blast. They can turn on a dime (though not very smoothly), lift a whole lot of whatever, and have driving controls straight out of Battlezone. Of course, they're noisy, smelly (mmm...diesel), and if one is not careful, one can dump dirt on one's head. Not that I would ever do such a thing while I was learning how to use it.

But they're definitely the right tool for a lot of jobs that involve moving a lot of dirt around. It was a lot trickier to maneuver near the play structure with a bunch of people around to dig out a little more for the play area. But still hecka fun.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spaghettiful Electrical

me fighting with the 1 1/4" conduit

One more quick trip to Home Depot (the nearest hardware stores don't carry the larger size conduit or fittings), and then with K's help I pulled the fat wire from the main panel to the new sub-panel. I hadn't done much with conduit before, metal or PVC, and I learned why people love the flexible armored cable so much. Working with conduit is more difficult than working with cable, and the PITA factor goes up with the diameter of the conduit because there's less give when lining things up. Because I was running 4-3 wire (which doesn't bend very easily) to the sub-panel, I needed a larger conduit. For comparison, the Romex you normally pull is at most 12-3 for two 20 amp circuits; 4-3 is quite a bit larger and less flexible. But with both of us pushing and pulling and temporarily undoing a few things to get a bit more flex, we managed to get it pulled. Then I fed the end up to the main panel outside the house, hooked it up, and it was time to test!

I was mostly replacing existing circuits, but the one for the water heater had failed a while ago with a bad neutral. Circuit for the water heater (it's a gas-fired tankless, but requires electricity for its brains and to ignite) -- check. Circuit for the furnace (it's gas-fired, but we have an electrostatic filter) -- check. 240V circuit for the dryer -- check. New outlet for the washer -- hmm. OK, I mis-wired the GFCI. Hey, it was dark in the basement! A quick re-wire -- check. I still need to pull armored cable for a new circuit for the lights and some outlets along my work bench, but we're back to having a working laundry room, and heat when we need it.

a lovely sunset over the bay viewed
from our chairs on the hillside

Lately it's been much warmer than than normal. So fortunately it wasn't a big deal to not have heat for a day. Unfortunately we need a lot of rain (and snow in the mountains) to make up for the last two drought years.

In any event, I was pleased to get that work done. I then proceeded to start removing some of the old wiring. The water heater and furnace circuits are just a few years old, so mostly what I did was shorten the runs to go to the sub-panel instead of the main panel. But the washer had never had its own circuit, and it wasn't GFCI protected although it was right next to the laundry tub, so I was pleased to fix that.


The real scare was with the old dryer outlet. I'd always known it was a bit funky, i.e., right next to the laundry tub, outlet a bit loose, runs from the panel, through a fuse box(!), then behind the laundry sink. When I started removing it, I realized just how bad it was. There was no clamp on the box to hold the flex cable in, so it was relying on the wire and screws to hold it. No clamp also meant that any movement of the cable would rub at the wires themselves. But the crowning glory was when I went to remove the plug. There were no slots in the screws! Closer inspection revealed that they weren't screws, but a pair of 16p nails (galvanized, thankyouverymuch) holding the outlet and the box in place. No wonder the thing was a bit loose! I was very pleased to get rid of that.

Star was again unimpressed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Zeppeliny Goodness!

I've been working on the electrical again. I made a trip to Home Depot to get some conduit fittings, and was surprised to see floating overhead...a zeppelin. I'd heard they were starting to give rides in the SF Bay Area, but hadn't thought twice about it until today.

the German cousin of the zeppelin I saw

I wasn't the only one who was surprised to see it. Two cars in front of me at a traffic light had cameras pointed out their windows, and a variety of people in the Home Depot lot were staring up at it.

Unlike blimps, which are a dime a dozen these days, zeppelins have a rigid frame inside. Unlike The Hindenburg, these are filled with helium, and don't have an aluminized skin (which is what made that burn so fiercely, not the hydrogen, which burned off quickly).

DIY with 10% more Zeppeliny Goodness!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thank You

I may not always agree with why you're sent, but thank you to all the veterans out there. NV at This D*mn House has a most excellent post for Veterans Day.

my grandfather in Italy on the hospital roof

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh My!

There was much excitement here at DIY Insanity. No, not putting in the plastic, filter cloth and gravel into the drainage near the path I'd worked on before (the only thing less exciting than a trench is a filled-in trench). No, not installing conduit and wire in the basement.

Instead, we had excitement for the whole neighborhood. While watching the Giants vs. the Eagles on Sunday Night Football (gotta love John Madden), we heard heavy trucks go rumbling by and saw some flashing lights. A short time later we heard some more; I figured it had been a false alarm and they were going back to the station up the hill. K could still hear rumbling, though, so she went to investigate. She quickly returned and reported there were multiple fire engines up a few houses. We went out to investigate, and found out that it was a house fire in the next block.

We couldn't walk up our street, so we walked around the other way, and saw a whole bunch of fire equipment. K counted 9 or 10 fire engines, 2 ladder trucks (the big ones with the 2nd steering wheel in back), 2 police cars, and an ambulance. And a PG&E truck for good measure. I saw a friend from Oakland Firefighters Random Acts who's in the department said it had gone to a second alarm in part because the residents were pack rats and the house was literally full of stuff. When it went to a second alarm, and in anticipation of a long night, they were dispatched with the department's O2 truck to refill air tanks as needed. So there were crews from at least 3 stations there. Fortunately no one was injured; the owners weren't at home when the fire broke out.

When I walked by this morning, the lower floor looked completely scorched, and the windows were knocked out (common when fighting fires to clear the debris and the smoke out.) The upper entrance floor (common here in the hills) looked OK, but based on how much smoke had come out the lower floor, I imagine there was a fair amount of smoke damage up there, too. Oy. I'm just glad no one was injured.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Happy People

No, not this happy person, but lots of happy people at, of all places, Home Depot.

While waiting for things to dry out, I've been working slowly on cleaning out and organizing more stuff in the basement to make room to do more work on the electrical. Some of it could probably wait until after the kitchen work, but the outlet for the water heater failed (bad neutral; it was installed by the plumber who installed the tankless water heater a couple years back) and inspired me to move forward with some of the electrical work now. That and if the inspector looks at some the existing wiring, they'd probably stop work right there.

So after placing the new panel and figuring out the runs needed, I headed off today to Home Depot, with visions of conduit and heavy gauge wire running through my head. And despite all the work ahead for the incoming president and congress, despite the ongoing negativity, despite the continuing bad news about the economy, people seemed much more cheerful than I've ever seen in Home Depot before. Maybe it was because I wasn't in the line contractors are usually in, though that was surprisingly short. Maybe they only seemed happier was because I was happier, both because of the election and because I actually found someone to help me. Maybe it was because it was another beautiful day. But regardless of all the whys and wherefores, I actually saw people smile in Home Depot, and that's even more rare than finding an associate to help you when you need it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Enough Already!

Every election seems to have some mud-slinging, but the McCain campaign, both directly and through the GOP has reached new depths in mud-slinging and out-right lies as it comes down to the wire. Even if I were interested in voting for McCain (I'm not; what little he's said about what he would do between the mud-slinging suggests 4 more years of W's policies), I'm so put off by this sickening behavior I'd cast my vote elsewhere. What happened to the 'respectful campaign' he promised?

Add to it the (unfortunately) usual mud-slinging over some of the California propositions, and I'm ready for this election to be over. The fear and outright hatred espoused by Prop 8 supporters is decidedly un-Christian no matter how you look at it. I thought churches were supposed to be separate from politics by law, but the LDS, Catholic churches, and various mega-churches are pouring money and energy in to support 8. I guess it's "love your neighbor" unless they're not like you.

Enough already. Get out there and vote for Obama, and vote no on California's Prop 8.