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Monthwander

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Where the hell have I been?

Here. Working like a sumbitch at 6700 feet above sea level, on things that may or may not be interesting to anyone but Carol and me. There is a lot of money tied up in this house, and the goal is to untie it as quickly as possible. On most days, come suppertime I am toast, and have not had the wherewithal to post anything interesting here on Contra since mid-May. Contrary to rumor I am not dead, nor anything close to it. I’ve been rearranging my sock drawer, for very large values of “sock drawer.”

It’s old news to my Facebook readers, but my garage floor has been cracked up (see above) and carted out, after which they brought in a dump truck full of road base fill, thumped it down very thoroughly, and then re-poured the concrete slab. It has to sit curing for five weeks before they can do the epoxy floor coating, but the worst of that task is out of the way.

The restorative surgery on Phage House continues. The painting is done. We’ve had the linen closet doors straightened. The ill-fitting cattle pen/dog run has been dismantled and donated to All Breed Rescue. We sold our snow blower on Craigslist, thinking that we won’t need it much in Phoenix. The granite counters and new kitchen fixtures are in and they’re drop-dead gorgeous. (Why didn’t we do this five or six years ago?) The staging lady has been hired and is ready to roll as soon as we get everything not required for staging into boxes. So as time and energy allow I’m boxing up all the stuff that didn’t go down to Phoenix back in December. We’ve given a lot to Goodwill and our friend Deidre who has an indoor flea market table. There’s more than I thought. (More, and heavier. Think vintage power transformers and filter chokes.) Lots more.

But then again, isn’t there always?

We should have been a little more forthcoming with our friends. Yesterday, a woman we’ve known since college and haven’t seen in several years sent me an email to say, “We’re in Colorado Springs on our way home from New Mexico. It’s so sad that you’re not here anymore.”

Gakkh.

No writing has been done, though I occasionally take notes on The Molten Flesh. Instead I’ve been reading copyedited chapters on my Raspberry Pi book, which would have been much easier if I weren’t trying to load half a house into boxes. (And no, I cannot explain SSL in two paragraphs. Sorry.) I still don’t know when it’s going to be published. Hell, I don’t even know who my co-author is. I do know that writing chapters in 2013 to be published in early 2017 is a really dumb way to do things, especially for computer books. Not that it was my idea.

One of my early readers of Ten Gentle Opportunities asked me to write a side-story about Bones, an AI animated skeleton who worked the crowds in a screen at a big amusement park until he was archived because he scared little kids too much, even though at heart he was a gentle and sensitive soul. The idea appeals to me. Later in the year. We’ll see. Side-stories are something I’m not used to and may have to practice a little to get right. This might be a good, er, opportunity.

The Sun has been completely blank for four days. This is peculiar, given that the solar maximum was in 2014. I would expect this in 2019. I do not expect it now. It does make me think that moving to Phoenix was the right things to do.

I am reading in the evenings, and watching a few movies. Carol and I saw Inside Out for the first time last week. It is hands-down the strangest animated film I’ve ever seen…and one of the best. I knew Sadness in college; she was in a lot of my classes. (Actually, there were considerably more than one of her.) If I hadn’t been dating Carol then, well, I would have stood in line to go out with Joy. And when Bing Bong faded out for the last time in the Chasm of Lost Memories, I caught a tear running down my cheek. If you’re going to have an imaginary friend, well, he’d be the one to have. (Mine mostly asked me to drop silverware down the cold-air return.)

I’m not done with it yet, but in The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz finally drives a stake through Ancel Keys’ heart. You will live longer by eating more saturated fat. Keys and his shitlord minions murdered millions. Don’t be one of them.

I have too many power transformers. Some of them are going to have to go. I see a few of them (like the old Collins items that I’ve had since the ’70s) are going for $100 and up on eBay. Smells like easy money to me.

Anyway. I’m working very hard doing boring things, harder things and more boring than I’ve seen in one period for a very long time. I guess this is just what it takes. With any luck at all, the move to Phoenix will be done by August, and I can start being interesting again. Nobody’s looking forward to this more than me.

Let There Be (Long-Lived) Light!

A recent story on the 113-year old light bulb reminded me that I needed to say something about light bulbs here, as they’ve been a long-running low-level project of mine that’s been so low-level that I keep forgetting to post a report. Money quote: LED bulbs are (finally) ready for prime time. It took awhile, but we’re there. Furthermore, there’s upside in LED technology that should make all things LED-ish even better in five or ten years.

Like a lot of people, I stocked up on incandescents when the Feds outlawed them. I did so because my experience with alternative lightning technologies has been hideous. I was curious about CFLs, and I tried them once they became commonplace. If there are light bulbs in Hell, man, they will be CFLs. Their light quality can only be described as sepulchral. They are never as bright as the package says they are. They don’t reach peak brightness immediately, and sometimes take several minutes to get there. (Good luck trying to pee in the middle of a cold night in a one-CFL powder room.) They have mercury in them (granted, not much) which is released into the environment when they break. Oh, and they remind me of spirochetes or intestinal worms.

Fortunately, they die quickly. I recently replaced a couple that were less than a year old. Some have died in a matter of months. I have incandescents in this house that were installed during construction in 2003 and are still in service. Why some bulbs last so much longer than others has always puzzled me. The Phoebus Cartel was real, and it’s not beyond imagination that keeping the tungsten thin for ostensible cost reasons could cover for deliberately limiting the bulb’s life. Still, this doesn’t explain why I have 11-year-old bulbs in some places, and bulbs that repeatedly die in a couple of months in others.

I have theories. One is that some sockets have center contacts that aren’t quite close enough to the bulb to make a firm connection when the bulb is screwed in. Nothing kills a bulb faster than rattly intermittents in the fixture, especially if thermal expansion and contraction of parts in the fixture cause the intermittents. (This is why bulbs shouldn’t be installed with the power on. The moment when the bulb touches the center contact during screw-in is not one moment, but several.) I have also observed that the bulbs that die quickly tend to be mounted either horizontally or at some odd angle, as in my great room ceiling fixtures that are fifteen feet off the floor. The long-lifers are nearly all mounted vertically, bulb-down. I can see how that might work: The filaments of vertical bulbs experience the same gravity load no matter how far they screw into the fixture. Horizontal or angled bulbs will place their filaments in different gravity load situations depending on the angular position of the bulb in the socket, which in turn depends on the manufacturing details of both the socket and the bulb.

Those atrocious CFLs made me cautious. I bought my first LED bulb only about six months ago, having watched them converge on incandescents in terms of spectral signature for some time. That first one was kind of blue, and it’s now in the pantry ceiling fixture where color doesn’t much matter. We’ve been buying Cree TW (True White) bulbs for a couple of months, and they are so close to 60W incandescents that I’ll be ready to install them in critical places (like the master bathroom over-the-sink fixtures) once the incandescents are gone. The Cree bulbs evidently use neodymium-doped glass to add a notch filter to get the spectral signature closer to incandescents. The sweet spot for color seems to be 2700K, and if you want a swap-in for those evil outlawed cheap light bulbs, 2700K is the number to look for. The lerss expensive Feit LED bulbs are bluer, even at the same Kelvin rating, and serve well in places like the laundry room ceiling.

I’ve just started replacing those angled 65W ceiling floods in our great room vault with 650-lumen Duracell Procell BR30s. They’re just a hair brighter, and at 3000K a hair whiter, than the generic incandescent floods we’ve used for ten years now. Replacing angled bulbs fifteen feet off the floor with a sucker pole is a royal nuisance, so even though the Duracells are $20 each, they use a fraction of the power and supposedly live forever.

Supposedly.

The clock’s ticking. I’m skeptical. Yes, Phoebus was real. But in the meantime, you really can get 65 watts’ worth of instant-on light with 10 watts’ worth of electricity, in a color that doesn’t resemble a zombie’s complexion. If any of them die on me, you’ll definitely hear about it.

Odd Lots

  • Our new concrete gets its sealer coat tomorrow, and once it dries it’ll be (finally!) done. I’ll post a photo. So far we think it’s gorgeous.
  • This article has been shared again and again and again on Facebook, and it caught my attention because it echoes something I wrote about in 2009: That because our stuff is lasting longer, we need less stuff, be it forks or cars. And the cars are piling up…or are they? Alas, the article is nonsense (it did smell a little funny to me) and here’s the point-by-point takedown.
  • Here’s the best detailed article on bacteriophage therapy I’ve seen in quite awhile. It’s a hard read, but a good one. Sooner or later, as antibiotics fail us one by one, we’re going to have to go this way. (Phages look very cool, as well.)
  • The scientific method wins again: We thought we knew the physics behind same-material static electricity. We were wrong. Doubt really does lie at the very heart of science, in that if we don’t doubt what we think we know, we have no chance of finding our mistakes.
  • Now that eggs aren’t evil anymore, it’s worth exploring all the various ways to prepare them. If you like hard-boiled eggs, here’s the best explanation I’ve seen of how to boil them so that they’ll peel easily and without divots.
  • Adobe’s Creative Cloud was down for some time. The issue’s been resolved, but it just confirms my ancient suspicion that putting everything on the cloud is a really bad idea. If I can’t access my software, I can’t work. Pretty much end of story.
  • Blue light keeps you awake. Staying awake shortens your life. So as the day winds down, Turn the Damned Thing Off. Then read a book until you’re sleepy. I recommend any substantial history book, with a special nod to histories of the Byzantine Empire. (Thanks to Dermot Dobson for the link.)
  • This is the company that makes the machines that play the songs on ice cream trucks. Or at least the ones in the UK.

Here Comes the Putzmeister!

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This is the machine that yesterday pumped liquid concrete into a hose, allowing it to be precisely (and rapidly) distributed into the voids that the crew had leveled, filled, compacted, and rebar-ed late last week. Ok, Michael Covington correctly tells us that “Putzmeister” translates from the German as “cleaning master.” That other definition you’re thinking of is actually Yiddish.

Quick aside: Seeing the machine reminded me of a very silly song my mother used to sing to us, called “Cement Mixer.” The key line (and what stuck in my memory) is “Cement mixer, putzy-putzy.” I think we may have had it on 78, possibly by piano maniac Slim Gaillard, who is the only man I’ve ever heard of who could play the piano with his hands held upside-down.

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No matter. The machine and the concreters did a helluva job. We have a driveway, a front walk, and a front porch again, in a nice sandy color and fairly subtle texture. It’s now cured enough to walk on (carefully) though we can’t drive on it for several more days. The texture-mold releaser dust has to be power-washed off of it before I can actually show you a picture of how it’s going to look. That’ll happen on Friday.

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The photo above is of the plastic sheets that apply the texture to the still-soft concrete. The bucket is the releaser dust that keeps the pattern sheets from sticking to the concrete. In use, the sheets are laid on the concrete and manually rammed with a pole-mounted thumper about a foot square.

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So far, wonderful. I definitely recommend the firm that did the work, Stivers Concrete. Rick Stivers got his big break by appearing with Ty Pennington on Extreme Home Makeover, back while he was still based in Escondido. Since then he’s fled California’s taxes and red tape to Colorado, and likes it much better here. We’re very glad he did, and we’re already looking ahead to summer 2015 for the garage slab and retaining wall projects. That’s about as soon as we think we can handle it, given that I have to put my lathe, drill press, and extensive scrap metal collection in storage, which in turn means that we still have a great deal of clean-up-and-put-away to do out there.

Whatever. My driveway is no longer an eyesore and a safety hazard. That’s victory enough for this year.

Creative Destruction (We Hope)

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I had hoped to write more about the Cayman Islands today, but we learned soon after rising that the Big Duntemann Concrete Project would begin elevenses. And so it did.

Those outside my inner circle know that we’ve been having concrete issues since four months after we moved in. Actually, as soon as the first big rain happened circa May 2004, our front walk caved in. The developer replaced it. We were good for a few months, but toward the end of 2004 the driveway started cracking. By early 2005 it was looking serious, and not long after it started looking serious, the developer vanished. (Coincidence!) So we had the driveway mudjacked at our own expense in the summer of 2005.

Peace reigned for a few years. By 2008 the driveway had begun to crack again, and by 2010 was rapidly descending into rubble. Carol was taking care of her mom in that era, so we didn’t have the bandwidth to confront the problem–and we were in Chicago as much as we were here. Just after the Taos Toolbox workshop in July 2011, the gas riser pipe on the street side of our gas meter cracked after being pulled down into the settling soil for seven years. Toward the end of 2011 we had to have the lower level slab mudjacked, which destroyed the carpeting and made a mess of our lower level generally. I pulled my left supinator badly trying to move boxes filled (carelessly) full of books. I like what we have on the lower level now, but man, getting here sucked.

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So at last we’re having the topside concrete bashed out and replaced. It was funny to watch the Bobcat jackhammer work on the concrete slab. In many spots, the bam-bam-bam was not sharp but hollow-sounding. After a few hits, the jackhammer tip broke through and went down five or six inches instantly, which suggests–nay, shouts–that there were six inches of dead air under the slab.

My driveway now looks like a bombing range, and will for what might be a couple of days yet. At some point (soon?) the dump trucks will come, schlep out the rubble, and then bring back roadbase fill to bring the area up to compaction code. After that, the rebar and the pouring can begin.

We’re having the front porch slab cut out and manually removed as well, which means that getting in and out of the house is going to be problematic for a few days, especially given Carol’s ongoing recuperation from three foot surgeries. The cars are parked on the street, and the freezer is reasonably full, as is the dog food bin. Concrete cocooning? Hey, I’ve got steaks, wine, red peppers, and a grill on the back deck.

We’re ready.

Something’s Burning…

Like, Colorado Springs.

Ok. First of all, Carol and I are fine. We’re fine in part because we’re not yet back in Colorado Springs. We’ve been in Chicago for three weeks and might have stayed a little longer, but then friends started to call and email asking, “Are you near the fire?”

Egad. I don’t talk much about being away until we’re back, so apart from locals few people knew we were not in Colorado. Once it became clear that the fire was no quick or small matter, we got things in order as best we could and started the long trip west. We’ll be home some time tomorrow.

Our house is about 11 miles SSE of the Waldo Canyon fire and does not appear to be in immediate danger. Jimi Henton is there with Aero and Jack, and we’re in regular touch with her. Over the last two days, the fire’s perimeters have moved mostly north and east. 30,000 people have been evacuated already (including several of our friends and even Michelle Malkin) and things are a stupendous mess.

More than this I can’t tell you until we get there. Stand by.

Packing the Deck

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The Springs got hit by near-hurricanic winds last night, stronger than I’ve seen since the infamous New Year’s Day storm in 2004 that threw a piece of the back fence of our rental house through the window, and demolished a nearby house that was under construction. We don’t have a fence here, and the roof shingles are concrete, so as best I know the house itself took no hits. However, the wind howled all damned night with a fury that suggested 80-90 MPH sustained gusts. I have wanted a weather station here from time to time. This morning, I want one a lot more than I did yesterday.

We looked out on the back deck when we got up and found that our gas grill and all of our deck furniture had been tightly packed onto the south end of the deck. There was some snow, but it had been blown around and drifted so heavily that it was tough to tell just how much. (I’m guessing 2″.) What was there was wet and very dense, suggesting that we might have had 10″ or more this morning had the temps been ten or fifteen degrees colder during the night.

I’m still under spousal orders to stay in bed as much as possible, and probably will until this terrible cough goes away. (My chest has gone into it-hurts-to-breathe-too-much mode, suggesting that the cough will pass away sometime this afternoon. It had better.)

How much wind does it take to do that? Yikes! I’ve stopped thinking about a weather station and have started shopping. If you have any recommendations, I will enthusiastically hear them.

Dare I Believe It?

I remember a sunny Monday morning in early June, 1974. Classes had ended at DePaul University the previous Friday, and I would graduate the following Saturday. Since entering kindergarten in September 1957, I had been going to school from September to June, and repeating the cycle again the following September. It was literally the only life I knew. School for nine months, vacation for three months. Lather, rinse, repeat. But wait, I thought–not only do I not have to go to school today, I never have to go to school again.

Dare I believe it? I was done.

It shook me to the core.

I remembered that feeling last night, after the burly young men packed all the scraps and fuzz and staples and things out the front door and roared off in their Ford van. I looked around at our lower level. Slab. Plumbing. Tile. Paint. Carpeting. Linoleum. It’s all there, functional and gorgeous. Things that had been breaking or leaking or cockeyed (or just plain plug-ugly) for several years were now as they should be. We were done.

Wow. This project was starting to feel like a way of life. I will confess that by June of 1974 I was getting tired of going to school. I was tired of getting ready. I wanted to dive in and get some things done, which I did. (Two weeks later I got a job at Lafayette Radio fixing burned-out stereos, portable radios that somebody’s kid had thrown up in, CBs that some dork had hooked to a TV antenna, etc.) I am long past ready to have my workshop and exercise room back, and a guest room for nephew Matt and his lady Justine to stay in when they visit next month.

Ok. I admit that it’s really not quite sincerely done. We now have a beautiful, empty lower level. There is one more job for burly young men to do: drag all the furniture out of the furnace room, the unfinished bedroom, and the odd corners of my workshop and put it back where it belongs. I guess I then have to unpack 1,000 books and re-shelve them.

No biggie. That’s just rearranging things I already have. The hard stuff, the stuff that had to be chosen, matched, paid for, delivered, and glued to the floor or slobbered on the walls, that’s all done.

Which is simply to say that it’s a big hearty Deo gratias and the dawn of the first day of the rest of our lives. Oh, and note to self: Our next house will not be on the side of a mountain.

Odd Lots

  • For the several people who asked: The odor-free carpet pad that we used in carpeting the lower level here is called Napa Carpet Cushion, from Leggett & Platt.
  • Apart from N&P’s Fallen Angels, Bob Tucker’s Ice and Iron, and possibly Mackelworth’s Tiltangle, what other SF novels involve an ice age on Earth in the near(ish) future? I have a concept that capitalizes on all my recent paleoclimate research, and I’d like to see if it’s already been done.
  • Whoops, found a list just before posting this. I clearly have some reading to do, assuming I can find any of these items. What are your personal favorites?
  • Today’s sunspot number is very close to zero. I haven’t seen sunspot activity this low in some time, and here we are supposedly barreling into the Cycle 24 maximum. The sunspot number is going in the wrong direction. 6M DX is evidently not in my immediate future.
  • Joe Flamini and Jack Smith are both pretty sure that the mysterious Comco gizmo I presented in my February 6, 2012 entry is an early remote control unit for commercial and public service radio systems, allowing control of a transmitter or repeater through leased phone lines. More on this in a future entry.
  • Having read briefly about hydraulic analog computing in a magazine decades ago, I built hydraulic calculators and computers into the technological background for my novel The Cunning Blood. Turns out the Russians did it on a pretty large scale back in the years running up to WWII. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.)
  • From the You-Probably-Couldn’t-Do-That-Today Department: The flipside of the Chad Mitchell Trio’s 1963 hit kid/Christmas 45 “The Marvelous Toy” was “The Bonny Streets of Fyve-I-O, about a colonel who shoots one of his own captains for insubordination.
  • Tucows (does anybody even remember Tucows?) is launching a contract-free mobile service using Sprint’s network. The rates are interesting, and favor people who want smartphones but just don’t use them much, and data little or not at all.
  • The Maker Shed has a $99 Geiger counter kit that allows logging of pulses through a serial port, and detects both beta and gamma radiation.
  • A little gruesome maybe, but it’s real: When we lived in California in the late ’80s, there were reports of sneakers washing up on Santa Cruz area beaches…with human feet still inside them. At the time we assumed drug violence, but there’s a less scurrilous if no less ghastly explanation for a phenomenon that’s still happening. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Mmmph. Military combat aircraft should be able to fly in more air than we’re used to, no? Sweden had this problem recently. (I’m guessing that Saab has it too, now.) Thanks to Aki Peltonen for the link.
  • The name of my company, Copperwood Media, LLC, was inspired by a set of traces on an old PCB that just happened to look (a little) like a tree. I had an artist draw me a better copper tree for the logo, way back in 2000. Now Rich Rostrom sends a link to the odd tradition in some parts of the UK of hammering coins into cracks in trees until the notion of “copperwood” takes on a whole new meaning.
  • Some very nice steampunk watches and jewelry. “Chronambulator” is a great word, whether or not you’ve got a steampunk gizmo to hang it on. Note also the level-reading absinthe hip-flask. (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.)

Smelling (Or Not Smelling) Victory

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As I posted on Facebook last night:

My family room now has a floor
And some fancy new tile by the door;
Though it took sixty days
We both knew patience pays–
Now it’s all that we’d hoped for and more!

Yesterday was Floor Coverings Day here. The poem doesn’t quite capture it. All of the lower level areas that were once carpeted were re-carpeted, and that includes two good-sized bedrooms, the hall, the big stairs, and our 20′ X 20′ family room. The total carpeted area is just under 900 square feet. Much of our original carpeting was pulled up or otherwise destroyed when we had the lower-level slab mudjacked back in December. The rest was torn up and carried out yesterday morning, along with a great deal of carpet padding, some tack strips that had gotten in the way of construction, and assorted trash that sure seemed like it came out of nowhere.

It took a little over seven hours, but the new padding was laid and then the carpet put down atop it. The stairs represented a great deal of fussy work, as was getting things cut just so for the closet insets and odd corners. We think it’s gorgeous. It’s much better carpet than what the contractor put down when we built the house in 2003. It matches the wood trim a lot better, and with some top-of-the-line padding underneath it, you feel like you’re walking on a firm mattress.

So we smell victory on the remodeling front. Things aren’t completely done. The roll vinyl for what we call the Harry Potter Closet (a huge-ish volume under the main stairs) was back ordered, and we may not get it laid until next week. But once that’s in, the construction is basically done. After that, I hire movers to put the furniture back where it was, and then start emptying 1,000-odd books out of boxes onto the shelves.

Why did it take so long? We smelled vectory when we didn’t smell it, basically. As anyone who’s worked with carpet should know, not smelling carpet and (especially) carpet padding is nontrivial. Our lower level stank of carpet pad plasticizers for a couple of years, and plasticizers are one of Carol’s migraine triggers. We looked at countless carpet samples, and the first thing we did when we laid hands on any sample was sniff it. If it stank of solvents or anything else, interview over.

This was a problem with carpeting. Our eventual choice was pure nylon and doesn’t smell enough to be an issue. The problem was a great deal worse with carpet padding. A lot of padding is made of chopped-up scrap padding salvaged from subdivision-scale construction, and to make it all stick together, well, they use solvents. Even what might appear to be new padding is plastic foam, and plastic is just polymers in solvent. They stink.

This was our major issue, and we said so. A number of carpet vendors did not take us at all seriously. I had to be a major hard-ass, which is against nature for me and requires practice. I got lots of practice: “This pad smells.” All padding smells. “This pad smells too much.” Padding that doesn’t smell is more expensive. “Brings us samples of what you have that smells less.” We have to order the samples. “Then order them.” It’ll take two weeks. “Good-bye.”

We shopped for almost a month. The pad we chose is some sort of unobtanium pseudo memory foam that looks like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s purple, sheesh, and has a gray-lavendar impermeable film on both sides. It’s also a far better insulator than most carpet pad, and given that it’s basically sitting on a slab of concrete resting on the Colorado soil, that did matter. At the carpet store, we held it up to our noses, and when we realized that we couldn’t tell whether it was the pad that we smelled or just the general reek floating around in the store, we knew that we’d found it. We took a sample with us, and when we got it home we realized it didn’t smell at all. I don’t know how they did that.

Don’t care. Sold! It was interesting that the stink-free is warranteed for longer than the carpet itself. That was fine; dogs are hard on carpeting. Hell, ordinary life is hard on carpeting. If in another ten years the carpet starts looking sorry, we’ll have it pulled up and get new carpeting. That pad, now, well. It stays.

So. Slab is where it’s supposed to be. Paint’s done. Tile’s done. Plumbing repairs done. Carpet’s done. Victory is one small roll of back-ordered vinyl flooring away. I can almost smell it.