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The Stuff Conundrum

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Over the years I’ve developed a couple of strong heuristics relating to Stuff:

  1. Know what you have.
  2. Know where it is.
  3. Store it in an orderly fashion, to facilitate heuristics 1 and 2.

One of the ways I developed these heuristics was by moving every three or four years as I chased jobs around the country. Time and again, everything we owned went into boxes, much of which then sat around in the basement of our new place, sometimes for years, before we opened up the boxes and looked at it. In the meantime, we often forgot what we had (or couldn’t find it) which led us to buy duplicate Stuff.

Our most recent move was better than many, because we had a lot more time to plan the packing. Our first few moves were corporate moves, which meant that my employers hired a moving company, which came to our house and loaded our Stuff into boxes in one furious day. That was worst-case, because there was no attempt at organized packing. Whatever was in the living room went into boxes. Whatever was in the bedroom went into boxes. Etc. Every box was a mishmash of books, knicknacks, throw pillows, coasters, and whatever other oddments were lying around the morning the movers came.

Later on, when we paid for our own moves, we packed our Stuff by ourselves. There were boxes of books, clearly labeled. (Lots of them.) There were boxes of kitchen gadgets, and nothing but kitchen gadgets. There were boxes of CDs and DVDs (ok, we mixed those) that did not contain books or kitchen gadgets. This made unloading it all into cabinets and bookshelves and pantries a whole lot easier.

My workshop was a whole separate problem. Ordinary life has relatively few packable categories: Clothes, shoes, kitchen stuff, books, wall art, dog supplies, knicknacks, garden supplies, etc. Out in my workshop, I had shelves full of Odd Lots in a hundred different categories, and in few cases enough of any one category to fill a box. Variable capacitors, panel meters, milk jugs full of tube sockets, tubes, transistors, test gear, and cubic yards of indescribable (except by techie nerds of my generation) kipple. So mixing categories in boxes was unavoidable, with the commonest single box label reading ODD JUNK.

Downsizing from 4500 square feet with a huge workshop to 3000 square feet with one small single-car garage as a workshop complicated matters further. I got rid of a lot of stuff in Colorado, including all but the very best of my vintage radios. I planned my shop in detail to waste as little space as possible, drew it all out on Visio, and emptied as many of the boxes onto shelves and bins and new Elfa as I could.

The rest went into the tack shed. Life got busy, and all those boxes of ODD JUNK remained unmolested until their weight began to collapse the shed’s cheap plywood built-in shelves. Just last week, I piled it all onto the patio, bought heavy-duty steel shelves at Home Depot, tore out the crappy plywood shelves, assembled the new steel shelves, and then began piling the goods back onto the shelves in the shed. Roy Harvey wanted to see a picture of the pile, which I took but didn’t consider notable enough to post. See below:

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There was a similar pile (though of much lighter boxes) atop our big patio table. I didn’t take a picture of that. By now, egad, I know what piles of boxes look like.

Once the new shelves in the shed were ready, I spent days opening up boxes of ODD JUNK, making piles by category, and either throwing out or re-boxing the piles. In the process, I remembered a lot of Stuff that I had long forgotten, some of it packed up when we began preparations to move to Colorado in the fall of 2002. I found many things I’d been looking for, especially tools and telescope parts. I’m still tessellating in the shop, but overall, it was a useful endeavor.

Better still, the shed (which used to be packed to the rafters) is now only about half-full. It helped that we’re taking about half of the paint cans (full of paint going back to 2006) down to the hazardous waste drop-off. It also helps that the shelves I bought had more, well, shelves. I spaced the shelves to accomodate the most common moving boxes, including the many Waldenbooks book boxes I got for free when we moved to Colorado in 2003. (See the photo at the top of this entry.) So I’m getting a lot more bang per cubic foot out there.

Best of all, I reviewed what was in the boxes, and scribbled lists on the sides of the boxes with magic marker. I may have to hunt a little for the boxes in the future, but once I find the boxes, I’ll know instantly and in detail what’s inside them.

Retired people often downsize, and many of them in my circles have told that they don’t miss all the Stuff they got rid of when they did. Me, I can handle a little of that. I got rid of my snowmobile suit, after all. But if you can’t lay hands on a 6AG7 when you need one, what is life?

LED Strips for Workshop Lighting

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We replaced nearly all of the incadescent bulbs in the house with LED bulbs shortly after we bought it in late summer 2015. That came to 27 60W bulbs and ten or twelve 75W floods for ceiling can lights. You can’t get incandescent bulbs in the commoner sizes anymore, and the power savings is considerable. LED bulbs have come a long way in the last few years, and the “softer” light quality levels (3000K and below, most of which were 2700K for us) approximate incandescent light close enough for what we do.

There are a couple of issues with LED bulbs. We bought Feit bulbs in bulk when we re-bulbed all the ceiling fan lights. Two years on, and the Feit bulbs are dropping like flies. I have nine dead but intact Feit 60-watters on my workbench, and two more that I dismantled to see what’s in them. What’s in them isn’t much: A voltage doubler/rectifier board that converts 117VAC to 236 VDC. There’s a disk holding nine LEDs, with two wires down to the power supply. The photo above shows what it looks like when you hacksaw the plastic globe off a Feit 60W equivalent LED bulb. It’s unclear to me whether the nine LEDs are single diodes or blocks of several fabricated together. It seems like a stretch to put 26 volts on a single LED and not see it emit plastic instead of light.

I’ve been taking bulbs apart to try and see why the Feit bulbs die so young. I’ve pulled two apart: One had a bad power supply. The other had a bad wafer. The wafer, however, was intermittent: Tap it with a screwdriver and it flickers, and sometimes comes up to full brightness. The dead power supply was just dead, without any indication of why. It stayed dead when tapped, unlike the intermittent wafer. Cheap crappy manufacturing, I’d guess. This is one Feit I will gladly walk away from.

LED lighting is problematic in ham radio work because of the broadband noise generated by the bulb power supplies. Fluorescent tubes have the same general problem. My notion is to create a separate lighting system in my workshop/ham station using LED lamps run straight-on at 12VDC. I had hoped that the wafers ran at 12VDC or 24VDC, so that I could harvest them from bulbs with failed power supplies. Not an option.

So I started sniffing around to see what sort of lamps are available for 12VDC. I bought a couple at a hamfest to play around with, and talked to the techs at a lighting store up in Kierland. They had an interesting display: Assemble-it-yourself LED strip lights. These consist of an anodized aluminum U-channel, with a self-adhesive strip of LEDs stuck to the bottom of the channel, with a linear plastic lens that snaps into the U-channel. The LED strips take 12VDC, and use 2.88W per foot.

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The LED tape strips come on a reel, with 16.4 feet on the reel and 3 LEDs per inch. The reel isn’t cheap; I paid $235 for it, and that’s about what they go for on Amazon. What I did was buy an 8′ section of channel/lens and put down just under 8′ of LED strip. The strips have clearly marked points every inch where you can cut them with an ordinary scissors, leaving solder pads on each side of the cut.

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The strip comes with a .215″ female barrel connector on the end of 6′ of 2-conductor cord. But again, there are solder pads every inch, so you can wire them to a power source any way you want to. What I did (at least for testing) is dig around in my Big Box o’ Wall Warts and found a Dell APAC-1 power supply, which came with a Dell matrix printer someone gave me ten or twelve years ago. It’s labeled for 12VDC @ 2A, and the strip draws 1.92A, so the supply is working pretty hard. (It squeals, way up there where Carol can hear it and I can’t.)

What I did with the strip is mount the four clips that came with the U-channel under the front edge of the first shelf above my workbench, and then clipped the U-channel to the shelf. The lower surface of the shelf is 11″ above the bench, so I’d have to do some bending and stooping to actually see the LEDs. And the intensity of the light is marvelous, shining down right where I do the sort of close work that electronics requires, which these days is real damned close.

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Because the light comes from a strip of 288 LEDs, there are basically no shadows anywhere under the strip, unless you completely block the light. This means that you can work in good light without worrying as much about your hands casting shadows on what you’re doing. It’s almost like the project photos in old QSTs, where all parts of a complicated hand-wired chassis are completely illuminated. The photo below is of a high-voltage power supply placed on the bench beneath the LED strip, and is literally what you’d see were you sitting at the bench poking at the supply.

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This was only a first step. The strip won’t be powered by the APAC-1 long-term. I have a 30A 12VDC supply that I built out of an old minicomputer power supply somebody gave me. That will be the power source for all the lighting in my workshop/shack once the whole system is complete. I’m looking into overhead lighting now, and may simply use the remaining 8′ of LED strip on the reel with a white diffuser lens, clipped to the drywall ceiling.

Ultimately I want to work up a solar panel system on the roof of the garage, charging a 12V battery of some sort to supply lights and radios. The landscapers are going to auger a hole next to the shack for an engineered ground system tomorrow morning, so I have other work to do before I get on the air. It was a fun project, and will make working on projects a great deal easier. Good light is not optional!

A Tall Tree in a Tight Spot

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We had the big sumac tree by the front door cut down this morning. “Big” is no exaggeration, either: It was forty feet high, and two feet thick at the ground. (Look carefully and see Carol standing behind it.) It was a bad place for a tree that size, for several reasons. It was messy, and dropped seeds and leaves almost continuously between April and August. That was annoying, but what worried me was triggered by what happened to the guy right next door to the east of us: He had a biggish (but not even that big) mesquite tree snap in half in a windstorm and destroy the pergola over his back patio. I looked at the sumac and calculated what would happen if it lost structural integrity in any direction. If it fell to the west (toward me in the photo) well, ok. Any other direction, and it would take out one or both of two gates, part of our block wall, some or most of the guest room, and some or most of the front entrance, including our stained-glass encrusted front door.

That was a thick tree, probably as old as the original house, which is now 52 years. Some parts of the two main trunks were well over a foot thick, up higher than our roof line. I agonized over the decision, because it was a healthy tree that looked solid as a rock. But it was too close to the house, and even closer to the front gate. So we had a landscape company we knew and trusted come out and take it down. We also had them take down a much smaller mulberry tree that was not healthy. “Not healthy” is putting it mildly. See the photo of the mulberry’s main trunk, below.

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Well, that had certainly been the right call.

The mulberry was quick; they had it down in twenty minutes. The sumac took the rest of the morning. The crew knew very well what was at stake, so it probably took more time than it might have, had it been growing in the middle of the back yard. It came down a chunk at a time, with each chunk tied on a stout rope and steered expertly down to terra firma. Some of the chunks were impressive.

Down, down, down. Then: Six or seven feet above the base of the trunk, the cross-section started to change. Take a look:

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Egad. The damned thing was hollower than the sickly mulberry. After I took this shot, I dug into the chocolate-colored stuff surrounding the void and tore huge chunks out with my fingernails. There were probably three inches of actual wood–sometimes less–forming a 15″ trunk. I wanted to yell into the hole: “Hey, any elves in there? The chipper’s at the curb. Last chance to come out, guys. Bring cookies.”

Any regrets we had taking down the tree vanished the instant we saw this. Sure, there was solid wood all the way around. But consider the lever-arm torque on the tree trunk if a really bad west wind hit the tree’s canopy. Crunch! We could have been out our front entranceway.

There’s a downside to losing that tree: It provided considerable shade to the house in the worst of the summer. My electric bills are probably going to go up.

The major lesson in all this is that we assume trees are immortal, but they’re not. Trees live for some period of time, and then they die. The typical lifespan of a sumac like ours is 30-50 years. We were already past that. The rot at its core was nothing worse than old age. I remember when I was a kid, and the cottonwood trees in the parkway on Clarence Avenue all started to die at once. The city had planted them, six to a block on both sides of the streets, when they platted the neighborhood in 1929. But once the market crashed, nobody wanted to build homes there until the last of the 1940s, when the trees were already twenty years old. By 1960, the cottonwoods were over thirty years old, which is pretty much end-of-life for that species of tree. Just about every one was hollow enough to hold a whole bakery’s worth of elves, including a few really fat ones. My sister remembers that one of them on another street fell on a house and did some serious damage, and since the parkways belonged to the city, wham! Hundreds of cottonwoods vanished in a couple of years.

A postscript: Our cottonwood was the last one on the street to go. When we saw the logs stacked up, we realized that it was solid to the core. So trees have bell curves too. Bummer.

Anyway. We have plenty of other trees, none of them (thankfully) quite that close to the house. We have a gorgeous Aleppo pine in the front yard, outside the wall, that may exceed fifty feet high. Google tells me Aleppo pines typically live for 150 years. If I ever feel the need to hug a tree, well, I’m going with that one.

Water vs. Electrons

I’ve been refining a heuristic for most of my adult life: Electrons scream in terror at my approach (I used to think this was just audio feedback) but water spits in my face.

It’s truly weird looking back across the 40 years that I’ve owned houses. Carol and I are now on our eighth house. At every turn, water was our adversary:

  • At our house in Chicago, we had ice dams in our gutters that caused significant interior leaks and paint damage, during that nasty winter of ’78-79. Also, I put a pipe wrench on a plugged fitting in the basement to replace it…and the fitting crushed into rust, forcing me to call a plumber to finish the job.
  • At our house in Rochester NY, we had water come up through cracks in the basement floor after every bad rain, and again when the snow melted in the spring. The upstairs shower drain leaked down onto the kitchen ceiling once, requiring some significant repair.
  • At our house in Baltimore, a weird combination hot water heater/furnace gave us relatively cool hot water, and not a lot of heat for the house. We only lived there for 23 months; sooner or later I suspect we’d have experienced much worse.
  • At our house in California, the World Series Earthquake in 1989 rocked our hot water heater against its pipes, breaking one of them and flooding the laundry room with hot water. The quake also opened the cabinets across from the hot water heater and dumped several cans of paint on the flooded floor. One can opened up, giving us a laundry room full of hot watery latex paint.
  • At our first house in Scottsdale, a chimney pipe installed upside down funnelled rain water into our bedroom ceiling, causing the wallboard to soften and collapse. Also, the water pressure there was so high that it broke the main water feed to the house, creating a sinkhole.
  • At our second house in Scottsdale, the water pipes under the slab were leaking, and our first monthly water bill was for 30,000 gallons that leaked into the dirt before we even moved into the house.
  • At our house in Colorado Springs, the drain run from the air conditioner plugged up, slowly leaking many gallons of condensate under the downstairs great room carpeting, forcing us to replace all the carpeting on that level. Earlier, after a bad rain the poorly compacted soil under our sidewalk settled, reducing the sidewalk to heaving slabs of rubble. The same thing happened (more slowly) to our driveway.
  • At our new house here in Phoenix, we have already had leaks from the water softener (which I simply bypassed) the reverse osmosis unit (which I replaced) and the continuous icemaker, which I junked. We have a kegerator that I’ve (mercifully) never tried. Mopping up water is bad enough. Mopping up beer–no thanks.

Which brings us to the current day. Yesterday morning Carol woke up to find that her side of the waterbed mattress cover was wet. QBit was sleeping at the corner of the bed, and since he’s about to turn 13, we thought he might have let go during the night. But no–this moisture smelled of plasticizers, not pee. After stripping the bed, we found a small puncture, a slit maybe 1/8″ long, oozing water. It may have been oozing water for a long time. Because it was a puncture, it wasn’t covered under the waterbed’s warranty. The bed is barely two years old. The puncture was on the side of the mattress, not the top, so it’s hard to blame on the dogs, or us, or in fact anything, beyond a sense that water really doesn’t like us.

We’ve had waterbeds for almost 35 years now. We’ve never had one fail. So I shrugged and attached a hose to siphon the remaining water out of the waveless mattress. The siphon got most of the water out. However, a waveless mattress has these fiber batts in it to damp water oscillation. The batts don’t let go of their water easily. A siphon won’t do it. What remains in the waterbed frame is a plastic bag full of saturated fiber batts, the whole California King-sized thing weighing so much that I can’t get it out of the frame to dump it.

Thanks to Amazon Prime, I will have a husky water pump tomorrow morning. Assuming that the pump does suck, I’ll be rid of the mattress by noon. Since the waterbed will soon be empty, we’re going to replace the cheap-ass carpeting in the master bedroom with super-duper pet-stain resistant berber. So there was a hint of silver lining inside that watery cloud.

And we will be ordering a 70s-style “full motion” waterbed mattress, without any damfool foam batting inside it. We had those for years before waveless mattresses were invented. They had their costs (rock’n’roll) and their benefits (guess!) but once the mattresses were empty, I could lift them with one hand.

Water remains my adversary, but I learn fast, and only make mistakes like that once.

The Missing Month of October…and Oh Yeah, Hawaii!

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People are starting to ask me if I’m dead or something; my last post here was at the end of September. I’m by no means dead. I’m merely 65, which means I don’t have the volcanic energy I had when I was a mere child of 50. And there was much on the calendar in October. A certain part of it was medical, which I don’t feel like going into here, apart from saying that it was nothing life-threatening, just profoundly irritating. (Nor is it over, alas.) Some of it was home improvement: We replaced every window in the house. Every. Last. One. Why? Most windows have some sort of flange or handle to grip when you want to slide them open. Not these, no. The only grabbable part was the little lock-handle, which I doubt was designed to take that kind of lever-arm. I broke one not long after we bought the house. So we got rid of them all, in one swell foop.

And we added one. That was the real challenge. My somewhat-too-small office (see photo above) had these weird double doors that swung inward, which (given that my big reading chair was in front of them) made them utterly useless, and left my office without ventilation. So we had a local handyman tear out the doors, 2X4 up a frame for a new window, and then add wallboard, sheathing, insulation and stucco below the window once the window was installed. Because the whole wall had to be retaped and repainted, that meant moving an 8′ bookcase containing all of my reference books and many of my programming books, as well as a huge file cabinet and my reading chair. The handyman added a new outlet box for the benefit of my steampunk computer table, and I changed all the outlets and plates on the wall because the existing duplexes didn’t all match.

I’m fussy about my workspaces, let’s say.

There were whole days (most of a week of them) during which my office was basically unusable. I moved my lab machine out to the wet bar, but it just wasn’t conducive to writing. And by the end of the day, I was generally so worn-out that I sat on the couch with my Paperwhite and devoured novels rather than wrote. Writing is hard work. You knew that, I hope.

Somehow I did make some solid progress on Dreamhealer in October, while swatting off distracting ideas for new novels like flies. I hope not to alienate my readers here, but if I have a choice between making progress on a novel and dropping an entry onto Contra, Contra generally doesn’t win. My low energy levels are making me look at what may or may not be a Real Thing on the personal energy front. The cost seems excessive, but the need is real.

And then finally, on the 25th, Carol and I hopped a plane and flew to Hawaii. At last, personal energy ceased to be an issue. We spent a few days on Maui, and then flew to Honolulu to take a room at the New Otani Hotel on Sans Souci beach, which overlooks downtown Honolulu. It overlooked something else: The War Memorial Natatorium, a titanic ocean-water swimming pool with bleachers, built to commemorate WWI, built in 1927 and now falling apart. The photo below is the view from our balcony.

What did we do in Hawaii? We slept in a lot. We bobbed in the water a lot. After dark we flew a Megatech Firefly until it broke. We talked about the damndest things. We ate maybe a little too much. We took in the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium, both of which were an easy walk from the hotel. (In fact, they were the major reason we chose the Otani.) We tried our best to act like newlyweds again.

Our room faced west, and from our balcony we watched the sunset most nights. They were among the most colorful sunsets we’ve ever seen.

The food at the Otani was excellent. They serve corned beef hash that has so little potato in it that they might as well call it pulled corned beef. The open-air dining room overlooks the beach, and requires reservations even for breakfast. They have a more formal restaurant on their second floor that has geishas, and prices so high even we balked. Fortunately, there is a little convenience store in the next building that sells decent sandwiches and Bugles. Picnicking on the beach was in fact a fine thing.

I made a game out of grabbing driftglass from the surf, which sounds easy until you try it. I picked up quite a bit of it our last afternoon at the beach. One assumes that the brown glass is from beer bottles, but it seems awfully thin for bottle glass. I found a piece of white glass with a blue Japanese design on it, and assume it came from a sake bottle.

While diving for driftglass fragments on the wave-tossed ocean bottom, it occurred to me that Driftglass would make a great title for a novel–and I even got a concept for one to match. Alas, Samuel R. Delany did a story collection called Driftglass in 1971. Will that stop me? Don’t know yet. Let’s just say that I have a lot of other writing to do first.

We spent Halloween at the beach before heading home on November 2. In honor of Halloween, I watched British blob-monster movies on my laptop all the way home. There are several, two of them Quatermass films. Damn, but they seemed way scarier in 1963. We haven’t had a genuine blob monster movie released in quite a while. Reboot, anyone? Once I score The Blob, I may do a writeup on the genre here. No, it’s not British, and like a lot of American horror movies, it centers on ukky creatures eating annoying teenagers, generally while they’re trying to make out. That may say something about something. Don’t ask me what, because I don’t want to know.

And so I return to Contra, with solid plans for several new entries, including one on health insurance that will doubtless annoy everyone. I also feel the need to do a few good rants. Not sure what I’ll come up with next, but I’ll think of something.

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!

Putzmeister Machine - 500 Wide.jpg

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.

Before Pour 500 Wide.jpg

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.

Pouring Walk - 500 Wide.jpg

Texture Pattern Molds - 500 Wide.jpg

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.

After Jackhammering 1 - 500 Wide.jpg

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.