Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
I've been dreaming of having a "smart home" for years, but the technology never really seemed "there" yet. It's either been flakey or lacked important features or had some quirk that made it less than ideal. I just couldn't see investing the money for an experience that was less than stellar.
But then Apple decided to get into the game by announcing their "HomeKit" platform and I was convinced that this was the solution I had been waiting for. Apple has a real knack for perfecting technology in a way that's smart, elegant, and simple, and finally they had turned their almighty gaze towards home automation. At last.
And so I waited.
But, other than an announcement, Apple never did shit for the longest time. Third party solutions never came.
Apple eventually got around to improving the HomeKit platform to make it more capable... and a few devices were released here and there... but overall HomeKit has been a failure. I love the security that Apple built into their solution (they really take stuff like that seriously), but that's about the only thing they've done right. Everything else to do with HomeKit has ended up being utter shit. The biggest failing being that all HomeKit devices are local, meaning that you have to be at home to control your home. Their solution for remote access is via Apple TV, but I've never been able to get it working well.
And so I went searching for a new solution.
I looked at every option I could find... Lutron, Wink, SmartThings, INSTEON, Nest, Belkin WeMo... the list goes on an on. There are a lot of companies out there doing home automation, and new ones are popping up all the time.
But which platform to choose?
At first I was convinced that I needed a single-company solution. If everything came from the same company, it would all work together and I'd have the most complete, powerful, and capable system. Right?
Well... not so much.
Every company has their strengths and weaknesses, which made choosing a single source for everything quite difficult. So after a while I decided I'd split my home automation chores between two different companies, focusing on their strengths to get the best system possible. Sure they probably wouldn't play well together, but if I were smart about which company got which devices, I could come up with a split-system that worked well for what I was trying to do.
It was a good plan.
But a plan doomed to failure.
Which I'll talk about in my next entry.
Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
As I mentioned yesterday, trying to tie my home automation project to a single vendor was doomed to failure. So I decided to split the tasks between two vendors along a logical divide... one company for monitoring stuff and one company for acting on stuff. Simple, right?
Yes. Kinda. Maybe.
Except... no. Not really. After a lot of false starts, I realized it doesn't really divide out like that.
And so I decided to stop worrying about how many companies it took to get what I wanted and just get what I wanted. Which, after weeks of research, actually ended up being a pretty good idea.
Starting with the door locks...
The one area where Apple's HomeKit came through for me was door locks. Out of the dozen or so that are available, Schlage's "Sense" was the solution I liked best. It's not an add-on that sits on top of your current lock, but a complete deadbolt replacement. You can use a key to lock/unlock. Or you can use the keypad. Or you can use your iPhone. Or, since it's HomeKit compatible, you can tell Siri what you want. It can handle multiple entry codes and has a "tamper" alarm if somebody tries to take a hammer to it. Supposedly it can be controlled remotely (out of Bluetooth range) via AppleTV, but I can't get that to work. Perhaps eventually I'll get that part figured out, but it's not so important to me just now.
The one "feature" I did NOT want was auto-unlocking when you walk up to the door with your phone. This kind of proximity unlocking may sound convenient, but I didn't like the idea from a security standpoint. Schlage Sense doesn't have it, which was actually a plus for me.
Once I reset the door jamb strike plates back so that the lock opened/closed effortlessly when the door was closed, installation went perfectly.
On the first door.
On my two other exterior doors, I couldn't get the tab on the lock assembly to line up with the slot on the deadbolt turn. This was incredibly frustrating, and I had to place a call to Schlage support to find out why in the hell my locks were built upside-down. Turns out they weren't... they just weren't aligned properly. Using a screwdriver (and more pressure than I was comfortable with) you can force the slot to rotate 180° so everything lines up. Why in the hell they couldn't put that in the manual is beyond me, but all's well that ends well.
Except, as you can probably guess, this wasn't the end.
If my locks are HomeKit but my lights are not HomeKit, how do they talk to each other so that the lights turn on when I unlock the door at night?
Guess we'll find out tomorrow...
Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
One thing you find out very quickly when researching home automation solutions is that everybody has an opinion as to what's best. You're never going to find that one flawless technology that everybody universally loves. Which means making a decision can be a tricky business indeed. You have to weigh all the opinions and reviews so you can find the solution that feels like the best fit for you.
I'll just cut to the chase and say that I ultimately decided on INSTEON for the bulk of my home automation tasks.
Yes, there were some reviewers saying that INSTEON is crap, but there was enough good things said about the types of things I was wanting to do that it seemed the best solution.
One thing I really liked about INSTEON was the dual-mesh networking technology they've got going on. Many of their devices are wireless, but that can be problematic because low-power wireless devices don't have a lot of range. But INSTEON also has networking-over-power lines for many devices, which means your network is instantly extended via reliable hard-wired connections anytime you plug a device into an outlet.
So while that open/close sensor on your window may be battery-powered and have limited range over low-powered wireless... that light switch three feet away is wired into the electrical system and acts like an extender to the sensor, so no problem at all.
And speaking of light switches...
My new INSTEON light controllers are ever so dreamy!
Thanks to the INSTEON Hub, you can control your lights from anywhere your smart phone has internet access. You can also monitor what's on and what's off. You can also link light switches together. And, of course, you can program schedules easily. My front and back porch lights automatically turn on at sunset and turn back off at sunrise, for example. You can use INSTEON motion detectors to talk to the lights and have dark rooms light up automatically. You can pretty much do whatever you want so long as there's an INSTEON device to make it happen. And there are a lot of INSTEON devices available.
But, alas, all is not perfect...
The INSTEON "smart" switches are much, much larger than traditional light switches. They take up a lot of space. Which means if you have shallow electrical boxes throughout your home, the odds of the switches actually fitting into them are remote. Even if there is enough room to cram the switches into the box, that may not be a good idea, as it will involve smashing all the wiring to the back of the box with a hammer. I'm not an electrician, but that didn't seem like a very good idea. Won't heat build up and melt your switches? Or, worst case scenario, start a fire if the electricity arcs in there?
I dunno. But it's not a risk I'm willing to take.
So... I either replace all my electrical boxes with something deep enough to handle the new switches (a positively massive undertaking that will involve cutting into walls)... or I give up on automating my lights.
Except... my dad offered another solution when I told him of my dilemma... a box extender.
Usually box extenders are used for when you add tile or some other thick product to your walls and the electrical box ends up too deep for the switch plate screws to reach. That wasn't my problem, so I had to find a solution which would extend the boxes out from the wall.
I figured with all the home automation going on, there would be a plethora of solutions out there to do just that.
I was wrong.
After hours of research, I was able to find just one.
Which I'll save for tomorrow's discussion.
Along with INSTEON's efforts to make their system Apple HomeKit compatible.
Posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
Home automated "smart" light switches are not really called "light switches" as their functionality is so much more than that. Most people call them "light controllers."
And, like I said yesterday, they're big.
Which means if your electrical boxes can't handle the additional size, you've got to install deeper boxes... or find a way of extending the box from the wall. Since the first option is a massive undertaking, I went with option two.
Which was not the cake-walk I was expecting. I could find only one manufacturer for such a thing. One.
Arlington Industries, Inc. and their UL-listed BES Box Extenders...
The extenders themselves are textured so you can paint them to match your decor. And while some people may not like the way they stick out from the wall, I'm actually quite happy with them. For one thing, I think it will cut down on finger-oils and grime hitting the wall. For another, when you pair the extenders with a screwless switch plate, it ends up looking kinda cool.
And when it comes to controlling the controllers? Now that they've been installed?
As I mentioned yesterday, INSTEON has a hub that plugs into your electrical system and the internet. You can then use your iPhone to control all your INSTEON devices wherever you may be... so long as your phone has internet data access.
But INSTEON didn't stop there.
In an effort to tie into Apple's HomeKit, they've recently released a Hub PRO model that does just that. Being able to integrate all my INSTEON stuff with all my Apple stuff and have Siri voice control for the whole shebang is pretty awesome. In theory. In reality? Well...
The problem with the HomeKit-enabled INSTEON Hub Pro is that it doesn't support all the various INSTEON devices. Only some of them.
Door sensors? On/Off sensors? Water leak Sensors? Nope. Nope. Nope.
Which means that the HomeKit option is pretty much worthless to me, for the time being. Perhaps one day INSTEON and Apple will get their shit together so everything will work right, but that day is not today. So I just bought the "regular" hub and figure I'll upgrade sometime in the future. That will be nice because then my HomeKit Schalge door locks will fit right in with everything else. In the meanwhile though... not so much.
Kind of a buzzkill, right?
There's another option to bring your INSTEON controllers into the future that Star Trek promised us. And I'll talk about that tomorrow.
Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
So... the INSTEON solution for Apple HomeKit integration, the Hub Pro, leaves a lot to be desired. It only works with a handful of devices, which means HomeKit voice control via Siri is half-assed at best. Which sucks, because being able to literally tell your home what you want it to do is the brass ring of home automation.
Lucky for us, there's another solution for that.
It's Amazon Echo, which is better-known by the "wake word" you use to activate it... Alexa.
I've actually owned one for quite a while, but the novelty wore off quickly given the limited amount of things you can do with it...
But all that changed once Alexa got INSTEON integration.
Now voice-control for my automated home is a reality.
And it's pretty awesome.
"Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights."
"Alexa, dim the dining room lights 50%."
"Alexa, brighten the living room lights."
"Alexa, turn off the garbage disposal."
"Alexa, turn off the lights."
Anything that can be turned on or off via an INSTEON switch can be discovered then controlled by Alexa. You can even set up groups of items within the Amazon Echo app so you can control multiple devices at the same time. And while Alexa doesn't understand what I'm saying every once in a while, "she" pretty much nails my requests spot-on every time.
And that feels more incredible than I thought it would.
Thanks to my INSTEON automation system and Amazon Echo's ability to integrate with it, my home now has ears and a voice.
But what about eyes? We'll get to that tomorrow.
Posted on Saturday, December 19th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
When it came to installing cameras in my newly-automated home, I thought I would use the cameras I already had. They're older, but they still work perfectly fine. Most of the time. Kinda.
Okay, they suck. They're finicky and don't always work. They have a limited viewing angle so you have to pan to see everything, which is almost impossible to do remotely. You can't store footage to review past events... at least not easily. Worst of all they are a total bitch to set up and maintain. But they were relatively cheap and capable at the time I bought them, which is why they're here.
Time to upgrade.
Of all the home automation devices I bought, figuring out which camera system to get was by far the most difficult decision.
The obvious choice seemed to be going with INSTEON, since that was where most everything else came from. Unfortunately, their camera solutions are terrible. Barely a step above what I have now. Even worse, they're not really an integrated solution at all. They're just old FOSCAM models that have been re-branded for INSTEON and slapped on to the system half-assed. Complaints are legion about how difficult they can be to set up and maintain, which is what I hate most about what I've got now. Which means INSTEON cameras are not at all what I was looking for.
Luckily, there are a lot of other options.
Too many options, actually.
But one model kept rising to the top over and over again... DropCam.
Which was bought out by the Nest thermostat people (which was, in-turn, bought out by Google). Which means DropCam is now NestCam. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, except a lot of people have been complaining about lost functionality with the Nest app compared to what DropCam had. But, in the end, the things that NestCam did right were the things I most wanted to have, so I decided to buy one and try it out.
I loved it.
So frickin' easy to set up. You plug it in, scan the QR code on the back with the iPhone app, then connect to your network. That's it. And once you get it set up, it's solid. Over the past couple weeks there has been
My hope is that one day Nest will offer a firmware upgrade that will allow their cameras to integrate with Apple's HomeKit. I'm not holding my breath, however, as Nest is building it's own competing architecture, and Google may not want to throw a bone that big Apple's way. Which is a bummer, of course... I'd love to be able to have my cameras be able to pass any detected motion to the rest of my home automation system... but even without that feature, they're still too good to pass up.
Not a bad acquisition for what started as a thermostat company!
And speaking of thermostats... what's in store for the final installment of Home Automation Week here at Blogography? Guess you'll just have to tune in tomorrow to find out...
Posted on Sunday, December 20th, 2015
Welcome to Home Automation Week at Blogography!
Probably the most famous of home automation toys is Nest, the Learning Thermostat. The brainchild of a couple of ex Apple engineers, their "smart thermostat" took home automation into the mainstream. Able to smartly control your heating and cooling system, Nest is simple to install, easy to use, and makes a real difference when it comes to saving energy and money.
So when it came time to pick a "smart thermostat," Nest was the obvious choice for me... especially since I already had invested in NestCam as my security camera of choice.
But then I started doing the research in HVAC forums and found out that Nest might not be my best choice after all.
So I went looking for alternatives.
One of the first products to jump out at me was Ecobee3. Of all the choices, it seemed to get the best mentions by HVAC technicians. And the reviews were good. And I liked that it features the ability to monitor multiple rooms to figure out a best temperature setting. And of course it has all the usual energy-saving smarts you'd expect...
What was unexpected is that it can also control the whole-home humidifier I'm installing. I had hoped that this meant the remote room sensors would be monitoring humidity as well as temperature but, alas, this is not the case. Still, handy.
When it comes to controlling your Ecobee3, it comes with a beautiful color touch-screen and equally impressive minimalist interface. You can also use your iPhone (or Android, if you're so inclined) to control your thermostat from anywhere in your home... or anywhere in the world you have internet access.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Ecobee3 is that both the main controller and the remote monitors have motion sensors. This enables your thermostat to automatically determine when you're home and away... and also to follow where you're at so that the temperature is exactly where you want it wherever you are. The main unit's sensor activates the touch controls when you are near it and goes into a "display mode" (where the controls disappear) when you're away.
A nice feature that's so logical it seems a glaring omission for smart thermostats that don't have it... is integrated weather. This helps Ecobee3 figure out how to best use your heating and cooling resources to keep your home at the desired temperature. It also allows the unit to save on energy costs by using outdoor ventilation to cool your home when the outdoor temperature drops after the sun goes down in the summer (assuming your HVAC system can do that). And of course you can view the current weather and forecast at the touch of a button.
At first I thought the remote sensors were kind of gimmicky, but then I saw how Ecobee3 can integrate them into the system. At night, for example, you can tell the thermostat to ignore all but the bedroom sensors, because that's all you're really going to care about. Clever.
I've not had my Ecobee3 long enough to know if the "DataRhythm" technology is savings me big money (it takes a month before any of the main features are available), but the "HomeIQ" web portal keeps track of all kinds of information so you can fine-tune your HVAC system to get the most bang for your buck once everything kicks in. It seems fairly comprehensive, so here's hoping.
Overall, I'm very happy with the Ecobee3. It's easy to use, has features for days, has an excellent interface for my iPhone, on the web, and on the thermostat, and could end up saving me some money. As if all that weren't enough, it's also Apple HomeKit enabled. So if Apple ever gets their shit together, that could be a big plus.
If you're looking to dip your toe in home automation waters, a smart thermostat might be a good place to start. And if the Ecobee3 is compatible with your HVAC system, it might be worth a look.
Posted on Friday, December 25th, 2015
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!
Welcome to an extension of Home Automation Week at Blogography! I say "extension" because a week has seven days and this is part eight. I guess I should have put a bit more thought into this.
I loathe smoke detectors. I loathe CO2 detectors even more. They're all bug-ridden, noisy, and prone to errors. Then you've got the damn batteries running out all the time which results in running around the house trying to figure out which alarm is "chirping" at you for attention. And God help you if you burn the toast.
Don't get me wrong though... if there's an actual fire in the house... or a CO2 leak... then I frickin' love detectors. But, for the most part? Not so much.
When I was looking into "smart" detectors last year, I was intrigued by Nest Protect. It seemed sensible, secure, feature-rich, and very cool. Ultimately I took a pass on it for two good reasons: 1) Nest Protect wasn't compatible with Apple's HomeKit, and 2) A lot of people were complaining about false alarms and features being turned off and never turned back on, despite promises from Nest.
But then two things happened: 1) Apple's HomeKit turned out to be a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT*, and 2) Nest came out with a "Protect Version 2" that supposedly addressed the many problems people were having. Oh, and the reviews were great...
This is probably Nest Protect v1. I think v2 is not so squared? Very close though.
And so... I went ahead and bought Nest Protect. Actually, I bought five of them, because that's how many
Setting up Nest Protect couldn't be easier.
Except when it is.
When you first open the thing, they tell you to set it up before you hang it. That way you're not climbing up and down a ladder if there's a problem, I guess. So I pulled the strip to engage the battery and my first Nest Protect told me to "PRESS THE BUTTON IF YOU WANT THE LANGUAGE SET TO ENGLISH!" And so I pressed the button. But apparently not fast enough, because my Nest Protect started speaking to me in Spanish. And wouldn't stop. Fortunately I was able to get the gist of what she(!) was saying and set things up without issue. Removed my old old smoke detector, no problem. Installed the mounting plate, no problem. Hung my Nest Protect, no problem. Tested the unit, no problem. Change the language to English... problem.
Using the iPhone Nest App, I was able to switch to English easily. But then I get a message saying "Changes will take place within a day." Yes... A FUCKING DAY! And they mean it. When I went to work two hours after installation, it was still hablaba español. Kind of ridiculous it should take so long, but okay.
Nest Protect does exactly what you'd expect a smoke/CO2 detector to do... detect smoke and CO2 and then sound an alarm if it finds anything. But Nest Protect goes much further than that...
Nest Protect is available in both battery-powered and power-line-powered options. My old alarms were power-line-powered, so that's what I bought. If the power goes out, the battery back-up kicks in and the outage is recorded, then (apparently) reported to your phone app. I never got a notification when I tripped the breaker for the the smoke alarms, which Nest says I will. If ALL power goes out, I don't see how Nest Protect can notify you because then the internet would be out as well, wouldn't it?
All in all, I'm most impressed with Nest Protect. I haven't had it long enough to know if the chronic false alarm problem that plagued v1 has been truly solved with v2, but I'm hopeful. And, of course, I haven't had an emergency to truly put it to the test, but I'm very much okay with that. What I can say is that all the various features seem to be working as advertised. I love being able to check in on my home when I'm gone and know everything is okay... but I've even more in love with the idea that if there's a serious problem with fire or CO2, my home will let me know.
*I will talk more about Apple HomeKit being a STEAMING PILE OF SHIT tomorrow.
Posted on Saturday, December 26th, 2015
If you take away one thing from Home Automation Week (now in Part Nine of Seven Parts!) it should be to avoid Apple's HomeKit home automation platform like the plague. It's no secret that I think it's utter crap in its current form, and the fact that automation companies aren't really flocking to the platform is a sure sign of "too little too late."
Yes, I love the idea of controlling my home with Siri, but Amazon Echo is probably more convenient for that anyway. Yes I love Apple's dedication to privacy and security, but what does it matter if you don't have all the automation options available that you might want? Yes, I love the idea of having absolutely everything tied to a single system instead of being in pieces but, again, it's only nirvana if you actually have all the pieces you need for that one system.
But the biggest reason to completely avoid HomeKit is not what's missing... it's about how what's there doesn't fucking work.
My Schlage Sense door locks are HomeKit compatible. But I never use any of the HomeKit features. Siri is just too fucking slow at unlocking doors to have her do it. I'd rather use a key or punch a code. But even worse than that? HomeKit's remote access features DO. NOT. WORK. My locks are supposed to use my 4th Generation Apple TV to communicate with the outside world, but they don't.
If I'm at work and want to know if I remembered to lock my front door? I'm supposed to be able to ask Siri. Siri asks my AppleTV back home. AppleTV then asks my lock. But unless I'm within Bluetooth range, this is all I see...
Maybe my front door isn't close enough to my AppleTV and doesn't have the range to report what's going on? Possibly. So I check my back door, which is two feet away from my AppleTV...
Nope! And it doesn't matter how many times I reset my AppleTV or login and logout of my iCloud account. NOTHING I have tried has gotten remote access to HomeKit to work for my locks.
My Ecobee3 thermostat? Also HomeKit compatible. Surprisingly, it can be accessed remotely via Siri voice control. Probably because it isn't having to go through my AppleTV and has full WiFi-enabled control via its app. Funny thing is? I'd rather use the app. Again, Siri is a little slow to act... and often gets my Ecobee3 requests wrong for some reason.
So... lesson learned.
If you're going to get something that's HomeKit compatible, be sure that it has its own remote access app that doesn't attempt to route crap through your AppleTV... because, for me at least, it ain't happening.
Which means as much as I love my Schlage locks, if I had known then what I know now, I would have picked a different non-HomeKit solution that actually works remotely as intended. As it is now, the status of my door locks is always unknown unless me and my phone is standing next to them. Pretty useless.
Maybe one day Apple will fix the AppleTV hub remote-access problem. Maybe one day Siri won't be so damn slow to do anything. Maybe one day HomeKit won't be a pile of shit. Maybe. One day.
In the meanwhile, I reiterate... do not be blinded by the Apple Reality Distortion Field when it comes to making decision about home automation. At every turn I've found that the non-HomeKit solutions which can be paired with reliable in-app remote access and a link to Amazon Echo are far, far superior to stuff that's tied to Apple's home automation platform. Yes, having to go through multiple apps and having no unifying system can take a little extra effort at times, but it's not at all a deal-breaker. If you're organized, it's not even that big of a deal. If you have Amazon Echo, I'd argue you're actually better off than using Siri.
I guess not even Apple can hit a home run every time.
But HomeKit isn't even a base hit.
Posted on Monday, April 11th, 2016
Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!
This time, we'll be taking a look at my guest-room remodel, which didn't require moving walls or tearing anything apart or anything extreme like that, so it was actually the easiest to work through. Kinda. The problem being that I've never had a guest room before, so it required all new furniture and stuff. In the end, the guest room actually ended up being one of the pricier expenditures I had.
The room itself is oddly-shaped, has one off-center window, and is kinda small, which left me limited options. I wanted a queen-sized bed, and it couldn't go under the window because I'd only have room for one nightstand, and I wanted two. So here we are...
The overall color theme for the room is white. In order to make things interesting, I went with as many shades and style of white as I could find. Then added dark blue to keep it from looking stark.
And now... on to the furniture...
The bed is just a metal frame because I didn't have room for anything extravagant... also, I wanted to put the money where it counted by getting a great mattress (Bellagio at Home by Serta). I did try and dress it up a bit with a pricey headboard from Target though...
Nightstands are IKEA. Originally I didn't want drawers, but ultimately thought they'd be less effort to dust than shelves...
Originally, I wanted to have a desk and chair in the room with the dresser in the closet. But the desk wasn't tall enough that both people could see the television while laying in bed, so I swapped them around, which works really great. Except there's no outlet in the closet, so I mounted an extension cord to a hook on the side of the desk. Both desk and chair are IKEA...
I had the chair by the door, but it looked like it would be easily tripped over, so I put it with the desk in the closet and bought an IKEA stool there...
I should mention that I don't usually allow cats in this room in case my guests have allergies or something... but the minute they hear the door open, they run to get in. It's apparently their favorite room in the house. Probably because it's the one place they can't normally go.
Meanwhile, back at the dresser...
The television is at the perfect height on top of the dresser, so adding the DVD player underneath wasn't working. I decided to remove one of the small drawers and see if I could make a space. I started by attaching some wood strips to the center support, then secured them to the side of the dresser...
Then I whitewashed a thin piece of wood to match and secured it to the strips with carpet tape...
After drilling a hole in the back of the dresser for the cords to pass through, the DVD player (and AppleTV) fit perfectly...
And... that's it for furniture. Thank you, IKEA.
Posted on Tuesday, April 12th, 2016
Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!
After the guest room furniture had been purchased, the next step was to figure out what I wanted to do for the textiles. Eventually I settled on a Liz Claiborne bed set that had a pattern I didn't hate. The matching window valance was incredibly expensive, so I found a Liz Claiborne solid that matched (I needed two because the window is apparently wider than average)...
The pattern on the bed cover is called "Arabesque" but it's reversible to a paisley kind of design I liked better...
The bed looked a little plain, so I took a cue from my sister's guest room and added pillows. I found them on close-out at Fred Meyer, and they worked perfectly...
When it came to the rugs, this time I went back to the "Arabesque" pattern for inspiration and found some nice-looking options at Shopko that weren't matchy-matchy blue, but a darker grey-blue...
Yes, the cats decided to get in the way everywhere I pointed the camera. The hams.
In addition to the blanket across the base of the bed, I bought a comforter and some cotton blankets in case my guests get cold. IKEA has nice "under-bed" scooters that work perfectly to store them...
And that's that for textiles.
Posted on Wednesday, April 13th, 2016
Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!
Rooms are made more homey and comfortable by adding some art and photos to the wall, so I worked hard to find picture frames that were interesting, but not overpowering. Shades of white that would work with the walls and furniture seemed the way to go.
I started with a vertical frame to fill the space between the dresser and the closet. Pier One (my favorite place for frames) had an option in cream that was perfect. I filled it with pictures of my kittens...
The centerpiece of the room is one of my favorite paintings, The Flower Bearer by Diego Rivera. It has a black frame, so it stands out from everything else in the room...
The two photos on the sides I took while visiting Barcelona Cathedral in Spain. The frames I found at Fred Meyer had cream mats to play off the cream vertical frame on the opposite wall...
To tie into the Diego Rivera, I had two postcards also by Rivera framed on both sides of the window. I think they came from Pier One as well...
To tie into the photos of Barcelona Cathedral, I framed photos of the geese in their courtyard on the opposite wall...
The frames I found at Target, and are my favorite in the room...
I needed a full-length mirror for my guests to get dressed in, and I found an interesting one at Fred Meyer. It was pricey, but the detail was pretty cool...
The wall with the TV was boring and needed something, but I didn't want anything too distracting, so I got the matching mirror from Freddy's to stick back there...
And... enough with the expensive wall decorations.
Posted on Thursday, April 14th, 2016
Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!
I wanted some kind of "theme" with the decorative junk I wanted to add to my guest room, but no idea what that might be. Then, while trying to find the right rabbit for an image I was working on for Thrice Fiction magazine, I found myself knee-deep in bunnies and thought I'd give that a try.
Not bad at all.
I started on the nightstand with this cool ceramic bunny I found in Fred Meyer...
That didn't work for my Thrice project, so I found a smaller vintage bunny at an antique store which ended up on the opposite nightstand...
That rabbit didn't work either, so I found another antique store rabbit plus a tall fellow that was on sale at Pier One. They're on the dresser behind the television..
When neither of those rabbits worked, I finally struck gold with bunnies that did work. Those ended up on the other side of the television...
With all my rabbit decor needs met, I ended up buying a plush bunny for the bed to tie everything together...
The cats like to attack the thing every chance they get...
And that's it for bunny rabbits.
Posted on Friday, April 15th, 2016
Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!
After jamming bunnies everywhere, I considered getting bunny pictures to add to the walls, but that seemed like entirely too much rabbit.
After tossing around ideas for a couple weeks, I was at an antique mall when the solution jumped out at me... vintage license plates!
Not only are they very cool-looking, but they are available in dark blue to tie into the textiles I bought. I found five great ones for above the closet...
One of the plates I bought was so worn there were no letters left on it... and it was pre-embossing... so I could barely make out that it was an Ohio plate from 1914. I wanted a companion plate, so I went hunting on the internet and found that the 1915 Ohio plates were dark blue... perfect!
The main wall has my Diego Rivera print on it, which has rich reds in it, so I found a license plate to match that I could put it above the mirror on the same wall...
Overall, I'm really happy with the license plates. The only down-side to acquiring them is that all the coolest ones are also the most expensive.
Posted on Saturday, April 16th, 2016
Welcome to Remodeling Week at Blogography!
After buying the furniture and textiles, then decorating the place, all I had left was to add all the things the room needed to feel like home for my guests.
I started with an alarm clock. I was going to go with white or blue to match everything else in the room, but the Diego Rivera print above the bed had some yellow in it, so I decided to mix things up a bit...
I live in a relatively quit neighborhood, but there's barking dogs and other distractions on occasion, so I got a Marpac white noise machine in case a guest needs a way to block sounds so they can sleep...
Nightstand lights are simple chrome models with white shades...
To camouflage the screws I used to secure the DVD player shelf in the dresser, I bought a chrome hook bar that guests can hang their keys and stuff on...
The top drawer is for guests to use, but the bottom three I used for a selection of DVDs... divided into Action/Drama, Comedy, and Kids. If a guest can't find something they want to watch, they can go to the main collection in the garage...
For fun-time reading, I bought some antique magazines. I also found some inspirational phrase books in my collection from Richard Bach and Deepak Chopra...
And thus ends Remodeling Week at Blogography!
Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016
I should have known better. I really should have.
Did I leave the television on? Has my dryer finished running? How much electricity am I using to heat my home? Good questions all.
These are things I'd like to know, so when I saw there was a new device was coming out called "Sense" that could answer these energy questions... and more... I was intrigued. And once I watched the promo video, I was completely onboard...
After a long wait my Sense ($250) finally arrived and I hired an electrician to install it ($120). Turns out I could have easily installed it myself, but the Sense instructions said I had to go online to get info if I didn't have a breaker free... then provided absolutely nothing online... so I took their suggestion to get a professional to do it.
Unfortunately, since my electrical panel was embedded in the wall and not surface-mounted, the electrician had to add a break-out box for the antennae. Not a big deal, but not exactly elegant. Would have been nicer if the antennae could have been inside the box, but I wasn't sure it could get signal there...
And so... all that was left to do after sinking $370 into this project was to download the Sense app which, fortunately, was free. And, oh yeah, there's one more thing you have to do... you have to wait. The idea is that Sense will "listen" to your electricity usage and eventually learn to recognize your various electrical devices by their "signature." The process takes days to weeks depending on whether Sense has your particular signatures on file.
After a week, my Sense was recognizing absolutely nothing, so I wrote to Sense Support to find out what was wrong. I was told I had to be patient. Eventually it will start to "get it" and devices will pop into place. Until then, I get to stare at two "usage bubbles" for "Always On" stuff (things like clocks and devices in "standby mode") and "Unknown" stuff (things that Sense doesn't yet recognize)...
With nothing else I can do, I decided to be patient.
Now my Sense recognizes exactly three things: my microwave, my garage door opener, and my water heater. It thinks it recognizes other things, but it calls all of them "Unnamed Heat" even though none of them are my heater. I try to figure out what they actually are so I can inform Sense, but I can't for the life of me figure it out, even though Sense tells me what time they turned on and off...
What's so fucking stupid here is that my ACTUAL HEATER should be dead-simple for Sense to figure out. It's the only thing in my home that causes the "Unknown" bubble to blow up like this...
But no joy. It's the most obvious thing using electricity in my house, but Sense hasn't a fucking clue.
Needless to say, I'm pissed off. Partly because this is not what I was promised, and certainly not what I paid $370 for. But mostly because Sense is stupid as a box of rocks... and there's no way to train it to be smarter about what it's sensing.
Take this morning, for example.
I turn on the garbage disposal. On the Sense app, I can see that it has the same "signature" every time you turn it on. It's right there on the screen...
You would think that I could tap those spikes and tell Sense "Hey, that's my garbage disposal!" but you can't do that. All I can do is scream "IT'S MY FUCKING GARBAGE DISPOSAL, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!!!" at my iPhone because Sense has the garbage disposal lumped in with all the "Unknown" crap and there's no way to tell Sense anything about the "Unknown" crap. But what about those "Unknown Heat" devices?
I turn stuff off and on in an attempt to see which "Unknown Heat" it might be... but that doesn't help. My television? Lumped in with "Unknown." My oven? Lumped in with "Unknown." My washer and dryer? Lumped in with "Unknown." My stereo? Lumped in with "Unknown." My iron? Lumped in with "Unknown." My Litter Robot? Lumped in with "Unknown." Everything I could possibly want to know about is lumped in with "Unknown" which means it's useless.
And so... for now anyways... Sense is junk.
Unless I want to know if I left my microwave or garage door running.
And I really should have known better.
Just like the Kickstarter crap I've bought which turned out to be garbage, I should have waited for Sense reviews to come out before investing in it... even though I saved $50 by pre-ordering. Turns out the Sense I really needed was Common Sense. Typical.
Posted on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016
Last night as I was loading my car trunk with some cardboard to recycle, I saw a gallon of milk sitting there. I must have missed it when I was unloading groceries four days ago. Don't ask me how.
I was going to dump it down the drain... but it's been cold out, it's non-fat, and milk is expensive, yo... so I decided to pop it in the refrigerator and give it a shot.
If you never hear from me again, please inform the coroner that it was the milk that did me in.
Now that they've gotten older, I am very fortunate that my cats sleep through the night. They crash downstairs around 7:30-8:00, then follow me up to my room when I retire for the evening. If I turn off the lights to go to sleep, they'll climb on the bed with me. If I leave lights on and work in bed, they'll climb into the kitty beds at the foot of my bed and fall asleep there.
Sounds great, right? Except when I have to get up and pee in the middle of the night. Jake and Jenny think this means I want to play. So when I go back to bed instead of playing with them, they are very, very unhappy I woke them up for nothing.
If you never hear from me again, please notify the police I was eaten by my cats.
Amazon's "Echo" device (called "Alexa") is tied in with my home automation system and controls everything. I can't remember the last time I physically touched a light switch in my home... I just ask Alexa to turn on/off the light I need. At first it was only when I had my hands full. But then... well...
The coolest thing about Alexa is that she can activate "scene" controls and perform numerous functions with a single command. For example... when I say "Alexa, Turn on Night Mode", the following happens:
That kind of thing.
It's absolutely awesome, and I love having Alexa around. She's become so ingrained in my life that when the internet goes down (which Alexa requires to operate) I kind of forget how everything works. When you never use light switches, your head kind of fogs over what to do when you want the lights on. It takes me a minute. In another couple of years, I probably won't even know where my light switches are.
If you never hear from me again, it's either because I'm trapped in the dark in my house... or trapped on the toilet screaming for Alexa to wipe my ass because she does everything else around here and I've forgotten how. Please call 9-1-1.
The mindsets of foreign countries... particularly those in Asia... are radically different from ours. Relations between nations there can be based on cultural differences few Westerners could possibly understand... or on events that happened hundreds of years before the USA even existed. To not understand these circumstances when building foreign policy is to invite disaster. Even the slightest misstep can set events into motion which could have catastrophic consequences. Because of this, it is beyond critical that our leaders be well-advised by people deep into foreign mindsets before making even the smallest decision.
Unless you are President-Elect Trump. Then you just do whatever the fuck you want, no matter how idiotic or dangerous the consequences.
India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. They are also blood enemies. Keeping them from unleashing mass destruction upon each other is a balancing act that has the entire world on edge. So when Trump has a terrifyingly ill-advised phone call with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as if he's running Pakistan when, in fact, it's the military that is actually in control of the country... you can see how this could cause a frightening shift in the structure of Pakistan, which could ultimately lead to problems with India. You do not want that.
Then you have Trump accepting a call from the president of Taiwan... which is tantamount to the United States officially recognizing Taiwan's independence from China... which is something that will send China through the fucking roof. This one phone call could set into motion events that have China taking military action against Taiwan in order to make it clear they consider Taiwan to be a part of China. Not to mention making The United States an enemy of China. Which, needless to say, is also a nuclear power. All because Trump wants to build a hotel in Taiwan (or whatever), and he has no fucking clue what in the hell he is doing.
Trump's actions are rushing nuclear powers to conflict in a way he'll never comprehend, and he's not even in office yet.
Can you imagine what happens when he's actually president?
Trump doesn't seem to want to listen to anybody. He acts like a petulant child. He doesn't seem to give a shit what the consequences are for his actions. He is willfully ignorant when it comes to foreign relations and is seriously clueless as to how critical it is not to be making the mistakes he's been making. He is very obviously putting his personal interests ahead of this country. He is inflaming foreign nations with nuclear weapons.
And I'm not saying that to be funny or dramatic.
If you never hear from earth again, it's because President Trump destroyed the planet. Please tell any alien life with time travel capabilities to go back into the past and abort this abomination before he's even born.
Posted on Monday, December 12th, 2016
Don't go shovel that driveway just yet, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Does Whatever a Spider Can! I've always been more a Batman guy than a Spider-Man guy, but Marvel is looking to change that with their first Spidey film, Spider-Man: Homecoming...
I mean... seriously. Marvel seems incapable of fucking up a movie. They respect the source material and give fans exactly what they're dying to see. This is the complete opposite of what DC does, which is rewrite everything that makes the characters great and give fans what Zack Snyder wants to see... which is always a pile of shit. Couldn't be happier to be getting what looks like an amazing Spider-Man movie. The fact that Tony Stark is in there being Tony Stark just makes it too good to be true.
• The Artist Formerly Known As... If you're a Prince fan, GQ has a long, but highly entertaining look at his life from the perspective of people who knew him best. As if that wasn't enough... another genius, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, was interviewed over at Glixel. You're welcome!
• No Toys for Tots. After coming across this sorry story, I have concluded that it's probably the stupidest fucking thing I've read in a long time. A charity that collects toys for children won't accept toys raised by a tavern because they prayed on it and decided that toys coming from a bar is a bad thing? Who did this idiot pray to? I mean, she did read The Bible and know who Jesus hung out with, right? Yet another case of Faux Christians following in the footsteps of Jesus... just so long as those footsteps don't lead to conflict with their moral superiority and false virtue.
• Can I Be a Lesbian? This had me laughing out loud in the middle of the night at my hotel...
Fortunately, I must not have disturbed my neighbors because nobody beat the door down and strangled me.
• Kitty Homebody. Ever since I got back home in the early AM, the cats have been all over me. When I sat down tonight to work and watch Wedding Crashers, Jake came running in and attached himself to me then fell asleep...
After a bit he ran to get a snack and I thought I was free... but then Jenny came running in and took his place...
Then she ran to use the Litter-Robot and I figured that was the end of it... except Jake came running back to take her place...
Eventually they must have decided I wasn't going anywhere tonight, and went back to life as usual. Until next time. As if I didn't already feel bad enough about having to leave them...
• Paranoia and Smoke Alarms. Just before my trip to Maine, I started getting paranoid about a fire in my garage. That's where my electrical panel is. That's where my furnace is. That's where my whole-home humidifier is. Any of those things could burst into flames and I wouldn't know about it until it burned through the walls and into the house. To set my mind at ease, I ordered another Nest Protect (smart smoke detector) to put in the garage. Now I'm wondering why smoke detectors in garages isn't a thing. Shouldn't they be? Sure it's $100 down the drain, but that's pretty cheap if my electrical panel caught fire while I was in Maine and unaware. Now my house will send me a text if the garage is on fire. So... yay? I suppose now I need to find out how to call a fire into my local fire department so I can actually do something about an alarm when I'm across the country and 9-1-1 won't connect me to the right place.
• A New History for Humanity. I whole-heartedly approve of this calendar. A simple change that adds loads of perspective...
Too many people think that all of humanity didn't begin until Jesus came along. This fixes the problem without completely disrupting everything. Until scientists decide that
• Trump Diplomacy. This pretty much sums it up...
And anybody still calling me "alarmist" for posting end-of-days scenarios around President-Elect Trump's ignorance and stupidity can go read this and then go read this and fuck off now. You'll note that I linked to a FOX "News" story the second time since the people who love Trump and are not taking this shit seriously seem to think that FOX is the only "news" source that matters. Guess we don't have to give a shit about Trump cutting Social Security and Medicare since we're all probably going to be dead by the time he gets around to it. In the meanwhile... this is how Republicans are saving American jobs?
And... the bullets have flown. Until next week then.
Posted on Friday, February 17th, 2017
I've long been fascinated with home automation... even before I had a home of my own where I could implement it. Once I actually got started with the stuff I became even more fascinated, because you just don't know what you can do until you're hip-deep in the culture. Depending on how clever you are (and how much money you're willing to spend), home automation is the ultimate lifestyle hobby.
Most people think that simple tasks... like turning lights on-and-off automatically or locking and unlocking a door remotely... is what home automation is all about. And they would be right. Except it can go so much deeper than that.
Take for example my morning routine.
I am usually up and working in bed around 5:00-5:30am. But my first task of the day... feeding my cats... doesn't happen until 7:00am. Once that time comes, here's what happens...
It sounds kinda complicated, but it's actually dead simple to set up once your home is wired for it.
Take, for another example, garbage day.
I keep forgetting to put the garbage out on Wednesdays when I get home so it will be picked up Thursday morning. Thinking like a home automation hobbyist, I wonder how I can have my home assist me in remembering. The program to do that is pretty simple...
On Wednesdays after 2:00pm, my house is alerted to start looking for me to arrive home. It's able to do this because my iPhone (which is always with me) will trigger an alert whenever I am within 50 feet of my house. Once I arrive, a notification is sent to my iPhone which reminds me to take out the garbage. You can see it in my iPhones alert screen (which you have to read from the bottom up)...
The first message I get is that I've entered my "home zone"... then I get a reminder to "Take Out The Trash"... then the garage door opens (while the sensor in there lets me know there is now motion in my garage).
It worked perfectly, but I was worried I'd miss the alert if my phone were in my pocket. So I added a line of code to turn on the light outside my garage. It's easy to notice because it's green (for the Green Light a Vet project)...
So now, even if my phone is in my backpack or on silent or whatever, I still have a reminder that I need to take out the garbage can.
What I really need to do is get a bulb that can change color. Then, on alternating weeks, I could have it turn blue to remind me that the recycle bin also needs to be set out.
Ooh... then I could put a sensor on my garbage can and recycle bin so that the garage light is turned off once the task has been completed. That way I'll be saving energy until it gets dark and it comes back on automatically!
And then I could set up a security camera alert to let me know when the trash can and recycle bin have been emptied!
And then I could...
Yeah. Probably best to leave it at that. Home automation can get expensive, yo.
Posted on Monday, March 27th, 2017
Call me paranoid, but home security is something that I take very seriously. In addition to having electronic door locks, motion sensors, breakage sensors, trip sensors, and three sets of security cameras, I've got a very cool system that ties it all together with a redundant processor and independent power supply.
One set of cameras has battery backup and records to a secure local location. That way, if the power gets cut or the internet is down, I still have recordings of everything that goes on. The other two sets of cameras record to separate locations in "The Cloud" and are far more fun. The NestCams are my favorite, having really good optics and the best-of-class online storage. I pay for the 10-day option... which is more than I need, but the least you can get... which does have the side-benefit of browsing backwards in time.
This morning as I left for work I noticed that the snow had completely melted from my yard, and made a GIF from snapshots of the past ten days...
Pretty amazing given that this shot of my yard was taken on February 8th where the snow was over 6-feet tall and piled out into the street...
Now that the snow has gone, I'm excited to turn my garage into a wood shop once again. In addition to building Catio Phase Two, making my own cat furniture to replace the carpeted monstrosities I have now, and building new kitchen cabinet doors... I also want to rebuild my closet to make use of every bit of available space. I can't believe how inefficient stock closets are. It's like they are built to intentionally waste space and be as inconvenient as possible.
I'm finding a lot of ideas online, but what I really need is a "Pimp My Closet" show on HGTV. Closets are some serious business, yo.
Posted on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017
A while ago, I saw this amazing BuddhaCat statue at Pier One. I wanted it immediately so I could add it to my Buddha statue collection, but it was $40 and I couldn't justify the cost.
Then today I got a 25% Off coupon in a Pier One email and decided to run and get it... even though I still couldn't really afford it. But let's face it, the thing would look great on my new desk.
My desk is just across from a part of my collection, so BuddhaCat is right at home...
He's kind of big, but still fit easily behind the desk pad I got at IKEA on Friday...
The cats wasted absolutely no time investigating their new cat companion...
I must admit that I'll kind of miss having BuddhaCat as my co-pilot though...
So pretty in sunlight.
Okay then... just so long as I don't run into BuddhaKitten somewhere, I should remain financially stable through the end of the month.
Assuming I eat nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and ramen noodles until then, of course.
Posted on Friday, May 19th, 2017
Internet-enabled security cameras are all the rage even though there are inherent risks to having them. Hackers are exploiting webcams with increasing regularity, which means that your privacy could be violated if you're not careful. Personally, I'm okay with the risks. Being able to remotely view my cameras from wherever I am in the world is the whole point of getting them in the first place. I want to be able to see what my cats are up to and check on possible security problems, and this is the easiest way to do it. But I don't put them in private areas (like bathrooms or bedrooms), I change the default passwords, and I have all interior cameras turn off when I walk in the door, so... if somebody wants to look at my kitchen while I'm away, have at it.
I actually have two sets of cameras. One is all local storage only with battery back-ups in case the power or internet goes down, the other is my webcam system that records to the cloud. After buying four different brands that were rated "the best" so I could test them out, Nest is the one I liked most and bought into...
Like anything in life, it's a mixed bag. There are good things and bad things to the deal.
THE NEST CAMS...
Despite my many issues with Nest, the quality of their cameras is absolutely not one of them. Indeed, the only thing that keeps me a customer is that the cameras are just so nice. Dead simple to set up. Beautifully designed. 1080p resolution with a generous wide-angle view. Excellent night-vision. When it comes to security cameras, they are the total package. You pay for it, of course. An indoor Nest Cam is a whopping $199 (around $169 street) and the outdoor Nest Cam is also $199 (around $179 street). I don't know that they are worth the price tag... $129 seems a more reasonable cost (especially considering you have to pay an additional fee for all the features)... but I've found nothing out there that compares at any price.
Where things go off the rails with Nest Cams is the necessity of paying for their Nest Aware cloud service. Yes, your cameras work perfectly fine without it, but all the best features of Nest Cam are unavailable unless you pay. And it ain't cheap...
The least expensive program gets you 10 days of video history at $100 for the first camera (annually), then $50 for each additional camera. I have ten cameras. If all of them were on Nest Aware, that would be an insane $550 a year. I can't afford that, so I only have some of my cameras using the service. What you get when you subscribe to Nest Aware is the afore-mentioned video history retrieval (with the ability to create downloadable clips or time-lapse videos) plus the ability to define "activity zones" so you can choose which locations in the camera's view will trigger an alert. Without Nest Aware, you can tune into a live view any time you want... and you can get a "motion snapshot" history for the past 3 hours (but only on your phone, not from a web browser). I wish they had a 2 day history option for $20 per camera so all my Nest Cams could be Nest Aware... or even have a 1 day history freebie so all Nest Cams could be Nest Aware. But, alas...
UPDATE: Nest has added a 5-Day video history option which is much more affordable. I was contemplating ditching Nest because the Aware features are just too expensive, but $50 a year for the first camera plus $25 a year for each additional is perfect for me.
UPDATE: Well, that was fast. I thought that $25 was a reasonable price, so I changed my plans to dump Nest in favor of Amazon and bought some new Nest cameras. Just now I went to add Nest Aware to one of the cameras only to find that they raised the price to $30... after just five months. This company is nothing but dick moves. I will never trust them again.
NEST AWARE ACCESS...
The Nest Aware service can be accessed from an app on your phone or a web browser. Both have an easy-to-use interface that's beautifully designed. A while back Nest added a "spaces" overview of all your cameras, which is what you see when you login. The only problem is that if you have Nest Protect smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, they bundle them together for some stupid reason, ruining the perfect grid of cameras. I've blurred the feeds so you can't see how messy my house is...
No clue why they do this, but it's incredibly annoying and I haven't found a setting to "unbundle" them. Hell, I can't figure out any reason why you would want them bundled in the first place.
NEST AWARE INSANITY...
Recently I have been having major problems with the video stalling on the screen when I view it on a web browser. Things have been working great for a year now (assuming I had a good internet connection), so what's the deal? I chatted with Nest support, telling them that the video is definitely getting to Nest Aware because I can download a clip as a Quicktime movie and the motion is there... I can even view it in motion on my iPhone... but 9 times out of 10 on my browser, the image doesn't move. Whether I am trying to watch the video live or review my video history, the image is static. So obviously there's something wrong with the Nest Aware streaming service for browsers, right? WRONG! First they blame the browser (that's tech support 101). But stalled video happens regardless of which browser and which computer I am using. Then I'm told not just once... but multiple times... that the problem is probably my router because the Nest Aware Service is "fine." This, of course, is insane. If the problem were my router, then motion video wouldn't be getting to Nest Aware. Except it is. My router doesn't even enter into the equation when it comes to getting video OUT of Nest Aware, only into it...
Long story short... the problem fixes itself when I use shitty "Flash" instead of "HTML 5" video to connect to Nest Aware. I thought of relaying this back to Nest but, given their fixation on my router, they probably wouldn't believe me.
NEST AWARE ZONES & PEOPLE DETECTION...
My favorite feature of Nest Aware is being able to define "zones" where I want motion reported. In my front yard, for example, I want to know if somebody is on my driveway or walk... or trying to steal my garden hose. I don't care about the people cutting across my yard or the tree moving when the wind blows. Defining a zone where I'll get alerted is a piece of cake (shown below in orange)...
The system works really well. Alerts are messaged to my iPhone quickly and, unlike other cameras I tried, motion outside the zone is actually ignored (this turned out to be a bigger problem than you'd think). An additional feature of Nest Aware is their claim to be able to send you "People Alerts" when your camera "thinks it spotted a person"...
Nest's website claims that its system is so smart that it can distinguish a person from a thing or a pet. Except... not so much. Their accuracy rate, so far as I can recall, is 0%. A team of landscapers arrive to mow and trim and not one "people alert" is ever sent. The only people alerts I get always turn out to be my cats. The alerts above, for example, were Jake and Jenny wrestling in the catio...
So... if your sole reason for buying into Nest is the "people alerts," then you might want to keep looking.
UPDATE: While still far from perfect (my cats are still registering as people from time to time)... actual people are now being recognized correctly most of the time. Guess a benefit of having a cloud-based service is that it's easy for the supplier to update the tools available.
NEST AWARE SETTINGS...
The settings available for Nest Cams are fairly standard, but organized really well. Some settings can switch automatically based on whether or not I am home (the system uses the Nest App on my iPhone to figure that out). As an example, I have all the interior cameras automatically turn off when I am home, then turn back on again when I am gone. If you don't want your location reported to Nest, you can always set home/away manually by clicking on the big toggle button that shows up at login...
If that's still too much information for you, there's also the ability to set a schedule for your cameras to follow. The rest of the settings allow you to decide whether or not you want to have the microphone on, what kind of alerts you want, what kind of image quality you're sending, whether or not to use night vision... that kind of stuff...
A feature I wish were available is setting the video quality based on whether I am home or away. When I'm home, I'm using the internet for all kinds of things and would prefer the cameras send low-res video so they're not hogging my bandwidth. When I'm away, I don't care how much bandwidth the cameras are hogging, and want them to automatically switch to maximum resolution. Don't know if this is possible, but boy would that be handy.
NEST AWARE PAYMENT...
If there were one thing that could be a complete and total deal-breaker for me when it comes to Nest, it's the disastrous billing system that they have in place for Nest Aware. It's insanely stupid. Beyond insanely stupid. First of all... if, like me, you bought your Nest Cams six months apart so you could split the annual Nest Aware payment into two parts so the financial hit isn't so terrible... Nest would like to kindly ask you to go f#@% yourself. They don't allow it. If you already have cameras on Nest Aware and want to add more of them six months later, they pro-rate the annual fee for the new cameras so the billing cycle is in-sync with the original purchase. There is absolutely no way to do otherwise unless you have multiple Nest Aware accounts, and I don't even know how that would work. I'm guessing you have to set up guest access to your own damn cameras on the new accounts? I'm sure Nest thinks they are doing you a huge favor with the pro-rated billing, but it should at least be the customer's choice as to whether this is allowed.
And, oh yeah... about that pro-rated account syncing bullshit...
It's horrendous. The system billed me twice... with wrong amounts... but not really. At least according to Nest. I spent months trying to reconcile the statements I received with what was actually charged to my credit card and simply could not do it. And neither could Nest. They ultimately told me that I would just have to trust them that everything was billed the way it's supposed to be, even though nothing they could produce would back that up. To this day I have no clue if I was billed correctly.
And that's not all.
Not by a long shot.
Because of the absolute nightmare I had when I added my second batch of cameras, I thought I would be smart and add my third batch after my Nest Aware expired. Since Nest is forcing me to pay for everything all at the same time, I might as well make sure that they don't screw things up again by taking matters into my own hands.
Except you cannot tell Nest Aware not to automatically renew.
Thinking I could outsmart the system, I decided to remove my credit card so they couldn't automatically renew.
Except Nest doesn't allow you to remove your credit card information from their system.
Yes. You read that right. Once Nest has your personal information, it belongs to them! Something I verified after spending a crazy amount of time in chat with Nest Support. Apparently the only way to remove your personal information and credit card from the system is to cancel your entire service... even if it's pre-paid in an annual payment!
SUPPORT: Here is how to cancel the Nest Aware subscription:
ME: Again... I know how to cancel the subscription. That is not what I am asking.
ME: I want to cancel THE AUTO RENEWAL.
SUPPORT: I understand. Currently the only way to cancel Auto Renewal is to cancel the subscription for the Nest Camera, itself.
ME: And you cannot remove my credit car so that it won't auto-renew that way?
SUPPORT: I definitely cannot remove your credit card but I am checking on the steps you can use to get that done.
SUPPORT: Thank you for waiting. After you go to the "Nest Aware" part of the app, you will see the type of subscription and be able to change your payment information. Please know that as long as you have an active subscription, at least one credit card will need to be in this account.
ME: Sorry I remain so incredulous as to how Nest chooses to treat their customers, but this is the wackiest thing I have ever encountered for somebody providing me a service. 1) You get double invoices with different numbers for every transaction. 2) Nest is not able to offer any explanation as to how the billings work or even tell you how things were billed. 3) You are forced to have your service plans pro-rated so everything syncs up on a renewal date... even if you can't afford to renew everything at once, which is why you staggered the purchase of your cameras in the first place. 4) You are forced to auto-renew Nest Aware, even if that's not what you want. 5) You have no control over your credit card information and cannot remove such private information from your account. 6) Nobody at Nest finds anything odd about all of the above. I mean... wow... just wow.
This is some seriously sketchy shit.
Nest Aware is like the f#@%ing mafia.
And yet nobody at Nest thinks there's anything strange about the way they conduct business. Nor do they appear to have any interest whatsoever in updating their system so it's not so abusive and stupid. It's for this reason that I hesitate to recommend anybody buy Nest's shit. Yes, they have incredible products, but is dealing with their absurd billing practices worth it? If I weren't already invested in the system, I'd probably say "no." But since I am, I guess I'm stuck here unless somebody comes up with a "jailbreak" for the cameras that allows you to pair them to your own "cloud server" for storage and access.
As I mentioned, I have ten Nest Cams. In order to get the coverage I want, I really need one more. And if the cameras end up going on sale one of these days, I'll probably get it. Despite having to be chained to Nest Aware's high cost... despite the stupid billing system... despite my running out of bandwidth. Because even when all that's taken into consideration, it's still the best security camera system I've found.
For now anyway.
Posted on Wednesday, May 24th, 2017
When I bought my home, I noted how all the heat in the place is constantly rising to the upstairs. Doesn't matter if it's natural heat in July and August... or furnace heat in December and January... it's all the same. Downstairs cool. Upstairs hot.
And since I put my bedroom and office cat's playroom upstairs, those rooms can get uncomfortably warm. So I took a cue from places like New Orleans and Maui and installed ceiling fans...
They. Are. Wonderful.
And since they are controllable from my home automation system, the fans can be controlled remotely. No need to get out of bed to turn them on/off or change the speed. I can do all that from the iPhone on my nightstand. Or by saying "Alexa, set David's fan to medium."
What I really need to do is get a temperature sensor and have everything programmed to happen automatically! The fan speed could be determined by detected temperature ranges. That way air could be circulating as needed, even when I'm not home.
The best thing about ceiling fans is that I don't have to run the air conditioner as often. Especially at night when I'm in bed and the fan is above me. This saves a crazy amount of electricity... and if I were able to install them in the downstairs living room and guest bedroom, I could probably get away with no air conditioning at all. Alas, the recessed lighting cans I need to install from are in all the wrong places, so... no joy there.
A summer project I've been bouncing around in my head is to install a ceiling fan in the stairwell. That way I could have it running in the winter to keep the heat downstairs where it belongs. Or so I'm guessing. Air flow thermodynamics are not something I pretend to understand.
And now for my metaphorical explanation of kidney stones from 2009...
Let's say that you built a new greenhouse where the plants require special water. Highly filtered water, you might say. So you build a nice system where dual filtration units remove all the impurities, then pass the filtered water off into a bucket. The bucket in turn feeds a massive nozzle which you then use to spray your plants...
The key to comprehending this system is understanding just how massive the nozzle is. It's enormous. Firefighters are in awe of just how big it is. You could hose down an entire football field plus a team of cheerleaders in just five minutes (assuming you didn't want to take your time, of course)... because that's how astoundingly large this nozzle is.
Unfortunately, the tubing you bought to feed the system is way too small. It's also very soft, and easily ripped if anything sharp comes near it. It can also be prone to tearing if you force something too wide through it. And no, I don't know why. Maybe you spent all your money on the massive nozzle and didn't have enough left over to buy decent tubes... whatever... it's not important.
What IS important is that the nozzle is just fine. The nozzle works perfectly and can handle just about anything you throw at it. It's the tubing which is totally inadequate to the task here.
Because, oops! Every once in a while the filters let a particle slip through. This causes all kinds of agony, because those little tubes just aren't built to handle it. Eventually, it will most likely make its way through the system, but it's a painful process. The worst, most horrifying part is in the tubes leaving the filters and depositing into the bucket. These are the tubes least able to cope with the damage. You get something going through here and you become so traumatized that all you want to do is burn down the entire greenhouse.
The tube from the bucket to the massive nozzle is uncomfortable, but nowhere near as painful...
Blargh. Having a particle stuck here feels like you have a little razor blade about to run through your nozzle. It also makes you feel like your bucket is full all the time. So you spend your entire day running to the greenhouse even though your bucket is mostly empty. What time you don't spend at the greenhouse is spent in quiet discomfort, just waiting for the particle to finally exit your filtration system so you can get back to a normal gardening experience.
And I would really, really, like to get back to normal so I can start living my life without having to worry about the spikey rock headed down my massive penis nozzle.
Posted on Saturday, June 3rd, 2017
No matter how many tools I buy, there's always something more.
My latest purchase? A plate joiner... better known as a "biscuit cutter." This very cool tool cuts notches in the side of a wood board so they can be joined together with a small piece of oval-shaped wood (a "biscuit"). The biscuit swells when glue soaks into it, which makes the joints quite strong...
A biscuit cutter became necessary for a number of reasons. First is that I can't fit large pieces of wood in my car. Second is that my sliding miter saw can only handle lumber 8" deep, and when I need a precise angle I don't want to use hand-saw. Aligning small pieces of wood so they can be joined into a large piece of wood is tricky business without a plate joiner, so I bit the bullet and spent the $100.
It works fantastic...
That's three pieces of 8-foot wood that's been biscuit-joined into a single piece, then filled and sanded smooth. The biscuit joint is not really meant to be for strength... it's more for alignment... but the board is about as solid as it gets. Nice!
The only problem is that every time I use my biscuit cutter, this song goes through my head...
All thanks to my Facebook friend, John, who just couldn't let me enjoy my biscuit cutter without Ivy Levan!
Posted on Monday, June 12th, 2017
Ask anybody who knows me... I am most definitely not into clothes.
But I do want to wear nice clothes, so I save my money all year long and purchase everything on Black Friday. This is essentially doubling my buying power, even though any summer clothes I get will be "last year's models" by the time I end up wearing them. Oh well, because: affordable clothes. Which I hate shopping for. And the only thing I hate more than shopping for clothes? Finding a way to organize them in my closet.
When I moved into my new home one of the first things I looked at was the closets. Since the place was built in 1997, I was hoping it was "modern" enough to have smart closet spaces. But it didn't. Same old rod with a shelf on it that I had in my last place. This means all my shirts will end up scattered around while my suits hang in the corner and all my jeans get stacked on the shelf. Again.
Such a waste of space.
So I looked into some of those "closet organizer" websites where you can custom design exactly what you need. For me, this is rather simple...
This ends up looking something like this...
There are several problems here...
And so, I added "Closet Organizer" to my list of woodworking projects. Then, a couple weeks ago I sketched out what I needed, headed to Home Depot for lumber, then worked on the thing whenever I had a spare moment. It turned out amazingly awesome in every way...
Well, it's kinda half the cost of the shitty online alternative. I ended up buying a biscuit cutter to join boards together, which added a $100 expense to the project that I wasn't anticipating. Even so... I still saved around $125 AND I've got a biscuit cutter than I'm sure to use on many future projects!
Oh... I think the cats like it too...
So... all in all a fantastic investment of my time. And I had fun building it to boot... almost no swearing!
On to the next project, whatever that will be.
Posted on Tuesday, July 25th, 2017
When I returned from Las Vegas earlier this month, my home was a disaster, even though I did a quick cleaning before I left. Between the cats shedding like crazy and their tracking in dirt, leaves, and debris from the catio (not to mention kitty litter everywhere) it doesn't take long at all before my home gets pretty filthy.
And, as much as I'd like to vacuum every day between deep cleaning every-other-month, it's tough to work it into my routine. I vacuum once or twice a week and not at all when I'm traveling.
So... I started looking into robot vacuums. Everybody I know who has one, loves them. They're not meant to replace an "actual" vacuum cleaner, but they are totally capable of sucking up superficial filth that tends to accumulate day to day. Especially if you have cats.
From the time I spent researching them, I learned that my home is ideal for a robot vacuum because it is open-concept, has clear pathways with little clutter, and all floors are either hardwood or tile. Great. So which one to buy? I narrowed it down to three...
I don't have $700 to spend on a robot vacuum, as nice as it may be to own one of the top-shelf models. Technically, I don't even have $200. But I sold an old camera body I wasn't using, which meant I had $200 I could spend.
The Eufy RoboVac 11 it is then.
Before the unit arrived I did three things...
And then... it arrived. Set up was a cinch, though finding a place to put the charging base was a challenge. They require an area a bit larger than 7-feet wide by 7-feet deep... and it has to be against a wall! This is a huge area. Instead of having my RoboVac in my living room/dining room area as intended, I ended up putting it in the guest bedroom... and even then it comes up short from the required space. Doesn't seem to be having any ill-effects, but I find it insane that such a massive footprint is required. Does Eufy think all its customers live in mansions?
I need about a foot more space on the left side, but I can move it to the right because then I don't have enough space in front. Another worry? Look at that tasty cord. I'm going to have to tape it up so the cats don't chew on it. I may experiment with moving the unit under the outlet (even though it will only have half the required space in front of it there) or perhaps build a cord protector. Or something.
The Eufy RoboVac 11 is completely dependent on the included remote control for anything other than automatic cleanings. Want to set the internal clock? Point the remote at it while you program it. Want to set a schedule? Point the remote at it while you program it. Want to send it "home?" Point the... well... you get the picture. Is this a deal-breaker? Not for $200. But it does kinda make you long for the network connectivity of the $700 units.
But the real question is... how do Jake and Jenny deal with our new robot friend? The first time it ran, Jenny hid upstairs the entire time while Jake stalked it around the house...
But the second day she was stalking it too...
A bigger problem than the cats are their cat toys...
If you've got cats that like to leave toys scattered about, that could be a problem. They are certain to get moved around by RoboVac. If they are lightweight and have strings or feathers or other dangly bits, they'll be partially sucked into the unit then get hauled around, stuck there.
Actually, the real question when it comes to robot vacuums probably has nothing to do with cats... and everything to do with how well the thing actually works. Keeping in mind that I had done a "deep clean" the day before I got it, I think this photo of its first run through my home is everything you need to know...
Since I had just cleaned, I expected there would be a few bits of dirt and a small amount of cat hair. Nuh-uh. Not even.
The bin was completely full.
Here's day two. FULL AGAIN?!...
And day three. Not as bad, but still...
Holy crap! Where is it finding all this?!? So gross. But wow does it ever work well! I may only have to "real vacuum" every month or so now!When it comes to a cleaning schedule, I set the Eufy RoboVac 11 to do a full auto-clean every morning at 4:30am. The results are... weird...
Like I said, weird. But it seems to be working just fine except for the marathon cleaning sessions. Perhaps eventually it will settle into a more consistent routine?
And now the pros and cons of the Eufy RoboVac 11...
My RoboVac to-do list...
CONCLUSION: Ultimately I'm so very happy I took the plunge. I love my new robot vacuum. I love it so much that I've named him Carl (after the janitor in The Breakfast Club) and he's a part of the family now. My Eufy RoboVac 11 is managing to find dirt and cat hair that I never even see. Yes, I'll still need to vacuum with my upright from time to time... a robot vacuum simply doesn't have the same suction power as an upright... but in helping to keep my home clean from day-to-day (especially while I'm gone). It's a fantastic tool and a big help.
My goal was to eventually replace the Eufy RoboVac 11 with a more expensive model that has all the bells and whistles I was wanting. But if it keeps doing the great job it has been, why would I? Paying $500 over the $200 that Carl cost me probably isn't going to get my home any cleaner. Maybe if I had carpet or complicated rooms it would be a different story... but, for now, I'm definitely sticking with what I got.
UPDATE: When I changed the schedule time, the RoboVac stopped vacuuming on the schedule. I contacted tech support and said I could try turning the power off. Then removing it from the base station. Then turning it on. Then clear the current schedule (hold the schedule button down until it beeps and clears). Then set a new schedule. Worked like a charm! Now Carl won't be interrupting the cats at breakfast.
Posted on Saturday, September 16th, 2017
In order to maintain the illusion that I am a kind, friendly neighbor who cares deeply about how others perceive me, I have been putting decorative wreaths on my door like I see other people do 'round the 'hood. But I refuse to hang cheap, ugly wreaths up... and I also refuse to pay big money for nice wreaths. So I shop the closeouts at Pier One. Quality wreaths at a bargain price! Problem is, closeouts only happen after the holiday is over, so I'm always behind. My Winter Wreath stayed up through Christmas. My Christmas Wreath stayed up through Valentine's Day. My Valentine's Day Wreath stayed up through Easter. And my Easter Wreath has been up until... today.
My plan was to run to Pier One this morning and buy a Summer Wreath on closeout. But I was too late. All the Summer stuff had gone to make room for Fall, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Since I didn't want to leave an Easter Wreath hanging on my door through the Fall, I did the unthinkable... I bought a Fall Wreath that wasn't on closeout. I did get to take 20% off for some reason though, so I guess that's something.
The benefit of buying decorating crap "in season" is that I didn't have to settle for the lame leftovers. Instead I picked out exactly the wreath I wanted. So now my home looks totally friendly and inviting again!
Not bad! Since I live in "apple country" I liked that this wreath had fake apples scattered throughout the other crap that was crammed in there.
Earlier this year when I was changing out my Valentine wreath, a neighbor walking by said "Hello" and "That's pretty" and "I'm always afraid that somebody will steal it if I bought a nice wreath like that!" Trying my best to be friendly, I replied with "Oh, I've got security cameras everywhere, motion detectors, a door sensor, a doorbell camera, an alarm siren, and a shotgun with a hair-trigger... so I try not to worry about somebody trying to steal it... ha ha ha ha." The neighbor seemed unsure of how to reply and said "Well, I guess you wouldn't," then shuffled off in a cloud of unease.
Something tells me I was the talk of the neighborhood for a while there.
But it's all true. I have the cameras, sensors, detectors, siren... all of it. Well, it's mostly true... my shotgun doesn't have a hair-trigger. I exaggerated a bit to be funny.
Since moving in, I've only been bothered once. Some kid saw my cats in the window and decided to bang on the door to scare them. Or, at least that's what I was able to piece together from all my security camera footage, which culminated with this...
I was in my garage building something but, since I had my iPhone with me, I was alerted the minute the kid step foot on my driveway. I watched him run up to my door, bang on it, then run away. Then I was able to follow him as he ran through my front yard, past the side of my house, and into the field that's in back of me. At first I found it funny that this kid was so stupid as to ignore the security camera sticker I have plastered on my door. Then I was angry that some little punk was messing with my cats. I was going to print out my camera stills and track down the little asshole, but ultimately decided to be the good neighbor and just let it go.
Next time I'm going to grab my shotgun and blow his fucking head off.
Just kidding! I don't even have a shotgun!
I have a Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum revolver with custom grip and a fiber-optic front sight.
Posted on Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
Jenny is turning into one of the most bizarre cats I've ever known. Which is to say she's an average cat. On one hand, she is terrified of everything. If somebody rings the doorbell or there's a loud noise, she vanishes in a flash. Needless to say that if I have a visitor, she hides until well after they leave. If I walk into a room... even carefully, she bolts. She is the very definition of a scardy cat.
And yet... she is demanding as hell. 20 minutes until breakfast? Screw that. She wants to be fed now. You want to work when she wants to be petted? Screw that. She wants to be petted now. She has discovered how to meow, and she uses it when you displease her. And she's completely manipulative about it. If her first meow doesn't work, she will try different meows until she gets results. It's totally adorable, of course. Well, it's adorable so long as you pet her in the way that she wants to be petted. And she will totally supervise your every move to make sure you are doing it right...
And speaking of supervision... Jenny will show up to lord over you whenever you are working on something interesting. When I was rewiring my media center, she sat staring at me for a full 20 minutes...
In other news... Jenny rules my entire house now.
After getting Carl the RoboVac, I had to remove the electrified "Scat Mats" because Carl liked chewing on them. Jake would always hop over them when sneaking into the kitchen, but Jenny rarely crossed over. And, on those rare occasions that she did, it was never while I was around. But now? She puts her little foot out to make sure she isn't going to get zapped... but she goes into the kitchen whenever the hell she feels like it. And that's whether I am there or not. She is fascinated by the refrigerator, and makes a bee-line to the kitchen any time I dare to open it...
Jake, on the other hand, won't go into the kitchen unless I'm gone or upstairs. And if I ever catch him in the kitchen, he bolts the second he sees me. Jenny, on the other hand, has zero shits to give any more.
And speaking of Jake in my kitchen...
I finally got around to painting two doors that I've been putting off for months. I knew I'd need a third coat, so I just left the paint can on the kitchen counter with the lid barely on and the paintbrush nearby. But then... as I was in bed typing this... I hear a big crash that sounds like it's coming from the kitchen. I take a look at the security cameras to see what the heck is going on, and...
I didn't even wait for the video to finish playing. I tossed aside my laptop and went running downstairs expecting to find my kitchen covered in paint. Except, luckily, didn't happen. Jake walked right by the paint can... went to the cupboard... and pawed a can of PAM cooking spray onto the floor... and that's what I had heard.
In other Jake news... he's been stealing Jenny's new favorite spot on the stereo receiver lately. Though sometimes they do share it. Usually when it's getting close to dinner time and they feel like staring at me in an attempt to get an early meal...
At least until one of them passes out from hunger...
And, since I mentioned Carl the RoboVac earlier...
Apparently Carlthe RoboVac has declared all-out war on Litter Robot. It's robot vs. robot...
I attempted to tell Carl to be nice since his fellow robot is literally cleaning up shit all day long... but Carl is having none of it.
Probably because he's cleaning up shit every day too.
Though, not literal shit. That would be horrifying.
Posted on Wednesday, October 18th, 2017
Painters were hired to paint my home, which has been ongoing for the past week... off and on. When I bought the place it was about ten years overdue, and the paint rubs off if you run your hand over it. So... very happy we managed to find a painter before winter arrived. Not so happy about the $2,550 it costs for my share of the bill, but dems da breaks when you're a homeowner.
My cats spent most of their time observing all the activity from out in their catio.
Until it was time to paint the catio.
In order to not have to pay anything additional for my addition, I ended up spending two days masking off the catio for ten minutes of painting...
Amazingly enough, ripping the masking off wasn't the piece of cake I thought it would be. Since I had to mask both sides at the same time, I had masking tape sticking to masking tape, which is not easy to pull apart. Something I hadn't thought of when I started this.
It's all over. And the catio matches my condo exactly now, which is pretty great for an OCD brain like mine.
My cats don't seem to notice.
Posted on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018
I went into work today and lasted longer than I thought I would, cashing out at 3:15. I tried to work when I got home but was feeling awful, and it was easier to watch HGTV and veg out on home renovation shows... then dream about the snow melting in the Spring so I can set up a wood shop in my garage again.
Chip and Joanna Gaines, the hosts of my all-time favorite home renovation show, Fixer Upper (despite some caveats) have decided to stop doing the show after this fifth and final season.
I'm way more upset about this than I should be.
But nobody else even comes close to making a show that matches my creative aesthetic like this one... and I watch all the home reno shows.
And now I'm tired of writing. Just leave me to die here in a pile of mucus while you go on to live out the New Year. Shoo. Just go now.
Posted on Wednesday, January 17th, 2018
Buying a home is much like attaching a boat anchor to your neck and jumping into an ocean of debt. Eventually you'll drown, but for as long as you can manage to keep your head above water, it's nice. I like having a place of my own that I can remodel as I want, design as I want, and otherwise make it mine.
Along with the debt, there's a never-ending (and ever-expanding) list of things to do. Things to clean. Things to repair. Things to change. The number of things on my list is overwhelming. Rather than let it drive me insane, I decided to focus on attacking just one thing every day... no matter how small. Fix a hole in the wall. Put together a piece of IKEA that's been sitting in the garage. Clean out under the sink. That kind of thing.
Today's task was removing the plastic stuck behind my appliance handles.
The former owner of my home kept it clean, but there were a lot of changes I wanted to make. One of them was to buy all new stainless steel appliances. In order to protect the stainless steel finish, everything arrives covered with plastic. Which would be fine... except it's not stuck to the appliances, it's screwed into the appliances. Which means you can't just rip it off. But that's exactly what the installers do. And so you're left with jagged ugly plastic screwed behind all the handles. To get it out of there, you have to remove the handles.
Which is easier said than done.
Every handle has a different kind of "hidden screw" head. Even handles on the same appliance can be different.
Which meant I had to go out and buy a full set of screwdriver bits so I could figure out how to unscrew star screws, hex screws, and other weird-ass screws. Which I found at Home Depot yesterday. Eventually I managed to find the bits that worked perfectly, but I've already lost two of them somewhere.
Adding "Find missing screw bits" to my ever-growing list.
Posted on Monday, January 22nd, 2018
I always make fun of the people who say "Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?!???" when they see their finished home revealed at the end of Fixer Upper (the home renovation show on HGTV). I mean, who says that? It's like, the stupidest thing you could say. YES, WE ARE KIDDING YOU! THIS IS NOT YOUR HOUSE!
Then just now I was unloading a box of cat stuff from Chewy. The cats were obsessed with the shipping box... until I opened the cupboard where the cat food is. Then they abandon the box come ripping into the kitchen like they're going to be fed dinner... an hour and a half early! It was then I found myself saying "Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?!???" — And then I realized either
It's probably a combination of both those things. My television is tuned to HGTV 90% of the time. I've seen every episode of Fixer Upper eleventy-billion times. I have all the clients memorized. It only stands to reason that the stupid crap people say on these shows is going to get embedded in my brain.
In many ways, watching shows like Fixer Upper is torture this time of year. I want nothing more than to clear out my garage and set up my wood shop so I can get started on all the projects I've dreamed up for my home this year... but that has to wait until Spring when I won't have to worry about my car being piled over with snow.
The last thing I want to do is walk outside in the morning, find an avalance on my car, and find myself screaming "Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?!???"
Posted on Sunday, February 11th, 2018
Spring is just around the corner... so better prepare yourself, because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Priced to Move! And... Blade Runner 2049 just dropped to $15 on iTunes. Knew it wouldn't stay at $20 forever given how badly they need to make up for the poor box office showing. Such a shame. I loved this movie. Yes, it ran a bit too long in parts and was in desperate need of further editing, but it ultimately pays off I think. Beautiful film...
The sound mix on Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best I've ever heard. Completely immersive, and all channels are beautifully distinct or blended as required. My cats are more than a little confused by the effectiveness of the spatial sound.
• No! Got a call from the Democratic party this past week wanting donations. My response? "Democrats representing my state are running off lobbyist money and obviously don't need my help. Why don't you go ask Patty Murray's Big Pharma friends for money and leave me the hell out of it. Take me off your call list and never, EVER call me for money again." Hopefully that will scare them off, just like I've already scared off the Republicans. Since I am not party-affiliated and vote for /donate to both of them, I have double the bullshit to deal with. I will never allow a political party to send my money to corrupt assholes in the pocket of lobbyists... from now on, I donate to specific candidates I feel are worth it. Not that there's many of them left.
• Good! Despite the fast that The Good Doctor was created by David Shore, I held off watching it because I have a friend whose son is autistic, and I don't like the idea of the struggles that autistic persons go through being exploited for entertainment. Then this past week I finally decided to take a look and was just amazed...
It's a very good show and didn't seem exploitative at all. I binged all 14 episodes I had. If you're not watching and like medical dramas, it's worth a look.
• Bio! And speaking of good television shows... iTunes has a free preview of A.P. Bio which stars Glenn Howerton (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and That 80's Show) as a teacher who is stuck in Ohio once his Harvard dream job passes him by. The result is actually funny... but also smart and even touching...
These things always look so stupid. When they turn out to be more than that, it's such a pleasant surprise. Patton Oswald is just the icing on the cake.
• Jones! And it seems as though Netflix will be keeping my monthly fee for.a while longer... new Jessica Jones is coming next month...
It's been revealed that Disney has no plans to take over the Netflix Marvel shows and move them to their new streaming service. Thankfully. Don't fix what's not broken. The Netflix shows are mostly awesome, unlike the ABC Television shows which suck ass.
• Unmolded! When I had my home renovated, I hired a fairly pricey contractor because I didn't want crap falling apart after a year. For the most part, I think it was a smart move... though there are some details of their work that pisses me off. Primary of which is the shitty molding installation.
My home has rounded "California Corners" which I hate hate hate. Mostly I just don't like how they look. But also because it made finding molding so difficult that I had to have it all custom made to get the clean and simple look I wanted. It was more money than I wanted to pay, but whatever.
Except... the installation was shitty. The corners were just slapped on there with no attempt made to blend the seams. I caught some of them before painting and sanded them a bit, but most of them had already been done and looked like this...
What chaps my ass is that it would have taken minutes to fix this before painting. But, since it wasn't fixed, that means I have to spend considerable more time sanding them out while making sure I'm not damaging the wall or floor...
But the result is worth it. I'm just one more coat of leveling paint (after the first coat dries) to the seamless molding I should have had from the beginning...
One down, eight to go.
Until next Bullet Sunday, enjoy winter's last gasp...
Posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2018
A while back I decided I wanted to build a pergola over the section of my patio which isn't already occupied by my catio enclosure. Initially I had the idea of fitting a cat-run on the outer edges, but ultimately decided that wouldn't work because it obstructed too much of my view. Instead I think I want something much more simple and open. I also like the idea of having a porch swing on one end and a low-fence creating a barrier at the back. That way I could put a small table and a couple chairs up against it...
I also like the idea of having a cat-run extending from the catio to a viewing platform on top of the pergola for Jake and Jenny. By making it fit between the slats, I could easily remove it if I ever wanted to...
And so... I'm making a parts list and saving my money for the materials needed. It shouldn't take too long to get it put together once I've cut all the pieces, probably just a three-day weekend.
Can't wait for wood-shop season to begin.
Posted on Thursday, April 19th, 2018
For the money, the most versatile piece of furniture I've found has been HEMNES Shoe cabinets from IKEA. At just $99 each, The four-drawer version is nicely shallow... just 8-5/8" deep... and since it mounts directly to the wall and there's no rear legs to push it away from the molding, there's no wasted space. On top of that, the drawers themselves are deep and spacious so they are actually useful. Not just for shoes (though they are great for storing shoes) but for all kinds of things (the one in my kitchen holds placemats and napkins!).
Once I found out that I wouldn't be able to wall-mount my SONOS One speakers as I originally planned, my first thought was to purchase a couple of HEMNES units, drill holes in the top, then hide the SONOS cords behind them. They're the perfect height, allowing the speakers to rise just above my couch...
Since the table-top on these extends from the ends of the cabinet, I had to modify them slightly so I could get the two units to sit flush against each other, but they turned out great. Even more importantly, they work perfectly for giving me excellent surround sound.
And, as a bonus, my LaserDisc collection now has a home. A perfect home, actually, since they are stored vertically, but pull down at an angle so I can read the spines easily...
It's kind of weird that I now have seven of these shoe cabinets in my home considering I don't own many shoes, but they're just so versatile and functional. The shallow depth also means they can go just about anywhere. Yes, quality control at IKEA is shitty and you may get a defective part that will need replacing, but if you've got a tight spot you're looking to fill, these are definitely worth a look.
Something tells me I haven't purchased my last Hemnes shoe cabinet.
Posted on Sunday, July 22nd, 2018
I've been keeping busy designing and building... but no worries, because a Special Edition of Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Cat Feeding Station! When it came time to decide where I wanted my "designated cat areas to be," everything came together fairly easily. Their food would be in a corner of the dining room next to the kitchen... the litter box goes next to the cat tree... and so on. The problem is that I'm not happy with how things work. The litter box really needs to be moved to the garage, but I'd have to build a pass-through and a containment cage. That's a big project. A smaller project? Building a feeding station...
And so? This weekend was the weekend to build that feeding station!
• Planning! I always start with a sketch like this...
On the left there is the power outlet and an open space large enough to hold the power strip and all the cords for the water fountain and auto-feeders. All the posts in the framing seem like overkill, but since I'll be leaning on it I wanted it to be sturdy.
• More Planning I had a hundred bucks worth of subway tile in my garage that I bought to put a partial backsplash in my kitchen. I decided I wanted a full backsplash, so it's all been collecting dust. I decided to use it for the feeding station, but had to make sure I had enough of the stuff, so I laid it all out...
I also wanted to make sure that I had enough rows so a "bricklayer" pattern would alternate nicely between the edging.
• Even more planning! I am horrified at the thought of wasting material or having a project turn out wrong, so I am very careful when planning things out. It's not enough to calculate the dimensions... I also have to stack up the materials to verify the calculation... then I have to actually model things out to make sure that I am accommodating things like baseboards, plywood underlay, cement board, thinset thickness, tile spacing, and so on...
Sure it's a big time-waster, but at least I know that everything will turn out perfectly.
• Framing! Once I've figured out how big everything has to be, I cut some cement board for the floor and frame everything out...
Because I'm leaning on this, I have to be sure I'm bolting it to the studs in the wall, hence the frame has to match them.
• Corded! I mocked up the space I would need for the power cords and such so I could make sure everything fit easily. Thanks to this advance planning, it did, even if the wall bolts had to be off-center a bit on that last stud...
That's cords for two auto-feeders and a water fountain power adapter.
• Power Supplies! At the last minute I decided to add a conduit pass-through for power cords...
This way I can minimize the amount of cords hanging out everywhere.
• Underlay! And here's where everything gets covered up with plywood...
I went pretty thick for stability... I don't want the tiles popping off when I lean on it.
• Underlay Part Two! I don't like working with cement board at all, but it's a necessary precaution when you are working with a tiled surface that's going to get wet. That way if you do end up with a leak, everything won't swell and flex...
Note that careful advance planning resulted in a perfect fit for my tiles.
• Wet Cutting! I bought a "wet cutter" for chopping up tile, but had only used it once before on flat tile. I had no idea if curved (mud-cap) tile would be a problem. Thankfully, it wasn't...
If you are doing a tile project I highly, highly recommend buying (or borrowing or renting) a wet cutter. I bought a cheap one for $80 that spits water everywhere and makes a heck of a mess... but it gets the job done (I just cut a piece of plastic to make a full bib when I use it!). I've tried the tile-score units, but they never do as nice a job and can result in busted, chipped tiles.
• Tile Up! This is my second tile project. If you look real close, you'll see that I'm not very good at it yet. But so long as you use a grout color that's not high contrast (like black for white tile) it will look just fine. How I learned this was watching Flip or Flop on HGTV. The one thing that Tarek seems to be capable of is laying tile. I figured if he could do it, I could certainly do it... because any time there is a close-up of his work, it looks pretty bad. Furthermore, any time I've hired a professional, it never looks perfectly set either, so I figured "what the heck" and dove in. Thanks to YouTube videos, you can learn how to do anything...
Note that on the floor I didn't set the edge tiles at the same time as the rest. The reason for this is that I am trying not to damage the flooring as much as possible. This means not getting thinset mortar on the hardwood. Instead I put a bead of clear silicone on the edge that touches the floor, then "butter" the backs of each piece so I can carefully drop it into position. Sure it's a lot of extra work, but ultimately worth it. Under the cement board is plastic sheeting to protect the floor even more. About the only damage I did was three screws to secure the board in place (and there was probably a little leakage on thinset that would have to be chiseled off). So now if I ever change my mind on the feeding station, I can tear it out with minimal restoration needed to the original structure.
• Busted! I use a Dremel tool with a ceramic cutting attachment to roughen the edges of the cove base tile (getting rid of the glaze so the grout will stick better). I figured if I was going to damage a tile, that would be the time. Fortunately, that wasn't the case. Unfortunately I ended up with a damaged tile anyway. One of the mud-cap pieces was cracked when I pulled it out of the box...
Since I had exactly the number of pieces I needed, I was in a panic. I bought the tile from Lowes at least a year ago... would a replacement tile match? Fortunately, the answer was yes.
• Finale! Tiling done! Now I just have to wait for the thinset to dry so I can grout it up!
Note that I am so concerned about having the tile pattern be balanced and equal that I even put a thin line of pencil tile in the back so it begins and ends on a row of full tiles (I also made sure that the alternating pattern was maintained around the corners!).
And so... almost complete. Overall I'm quite happy with how it turned out. Jenny's messes can be cleaned up easily. The power strip and wad of cables is concealed. The power cords can be hidden when I'm not using the auto-feeders. And I have a really good support to lean against when setting down or picking up food bowls when my back is out! On top of that, it will match what I'm planning to do in my kitchen/laundry room remodel (and matches the square tile used in my bathrooms).
The nice thing about it being tile is that I can hang stuff on it with suction cups! I can label their bowls and even decorate for the holidays... assuming my cats would leave it all alone!
• Inside! Given how much I love to design and build things, I will probably be the one who ends up tearing this out to make something different. But, in case I'm not, I left a note for future owners if they decide they don't want a pet feeding station...
Now they know who to blame that there's this ceramic tile construct in their dining room!
And that's all she wrote... FOR TOMORROW WE GROUT!
Posted on Monday, July 23rd, 2018
Apparently "white" as a description is variable. In the case of the grout I bought for my cat feeding station, "white" was actually "light gray." Since this is entirely what I didn't want, I had to make yet another trip to Home Depot in order to try a different brand of "white."
Second time was a charm, because I ended up getting exactly what I wanted...
Since this will eventually match what I want for my kitchen remodel, it was important to get exactly what I wanted... a clean, sleek, simple look where the tile was more of a suggestion. That way it's not boring and flat, but also not something which calls too much attention to itself.
Overall, I'm very happy with how everything turned out. Sure there are some minor details I'd do differently now that I've learned so much... but that's the way it goes. My only other option is to never try to build anything, never learn anything, and never accomplish anything.
So next up?
I'd love to hop on my laundry room remodel right away. That would put one step closer to remodeling my kitchen... but I've got other projects I need to knock off my list first.
But eventually... one day...
Posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2018
When I bought my home, there was a lot of remodeling that needed to be done so that my mom would be safe living here. She couldn't walk on carpet very well, so I had to replace all the flooring with hardwood. She couldn't use the showers because there was a lip she'd trip over, so I had to put in a zero-entry pan. I had to remodel the stairwell railing so she wouldn't fall down the stairs. It went on and on. And that's not even touching on some of the cosmetic things I wanted to change (the sponge-painted accent walls had to go).
When it came time to hire a contractor, I had to be sure they were available ASAP and would do high-quality work. I ended up going with one of the most expensive options, but I felt I'd get what I paid for. My mom's safety was worth more than money.
After the work was completed, I was fairly happy with everything. I ended up being more expensive than quoted... took longer than quoted... and was one of the most frustrating things I've ever done... but it's all good.
Then I started living with it and noticing things.
Fixtures were crooked. Workmanship was shoddy. Paint bled onto my floors. And these were not isolated incidents... they were everywhere. I paid a premium price for shitty work.
Which meant I had to remodel my remodel. I started with the horrific job they did on my "California corners" on my baseboards. Instead of being sanded smooth, they just painted over their shitty mis-matched bullshit...
Then back in August I saw that the paint was sagging off the wall of my guest bathroom...
Upon inspection I noticed that the texture which was still stuck to the wall was applied badly. They didn't bother to sand down the patchwork they applied after ripping the mirror off the wall...
Not only that, but they didn't bother to match the texture that was already on the wall. There are no less than six texture patterns across the whole bathroom along with ugly smooth spots where they didn't apply texture at all...
This is infuriating.
Everything is so messed up that the only realistic way to fix it is to scrape everything off, sand it all smooth, then start over from scratch.
I don't have time for that right now, so I started removing the texture that was sagging. The reason it was sagging is that they didn't sand off the paint from the previous texture, so the new texture couldn't stick to it...
And then something horrible started happening. The patch material that they used where the mirror used to be (and didn't sand down) was starting to turn to power. The texture would peel off the wall with the slightest scrape of my putty knife...
Even worse? As you can see, chunks of the patchwork was falling out of the wall as well.
What a fucking joke. My contractor's team did the shittiest job possible and apparently didn't give a crap that it would fall apart within two years. Some of the repairs were so badly applied that I had to cut them out of the wall so it would flatten out.
After scraping practically the entire wall and sanding around the area that fell off, I was ready to tape off everything and re-texture...
Despite coming from a can, the new texture went up easy. I dare say that my effort matched the walls better than the various textures my contractor used...
After painting, the wall looked far from perfect... but at least it wasn't sagging and flaking any more...
Maybe next Summer I'll be able to take a week off work, pull out the fixtures and furniture, strip everything down, then do a proper repair. In the meanwhile, this will have to do.
I remain dumbfounded that people don't seem to take pride in their workmanship or build anything to last anymore. The only way to make sure of anything now is to do it yourself.
Posted on Friday, November 30th, 2018
When it comes to working on my home, painting is easily the chore I loathe the most. But I don't really have much choice. I had to put a second coat of paint on the wall I repaired two days ago, and decided to take the opportunity to do some touch-up throughout the house. I had some nail holes to fill, a scrape to repair, and a small tomato sauce stain on my kitchen wall to cover up. Oh... and one more thing as well.
When I put up the cat trees in front of two of my windows, I didn't want the cats getting caught up in the blinds, so I removed them. It was then I discovered that the painters didn't bother to take them down when they painted. Which means the only window insets that got fully painted were the ones upstairs (because I removed those). All of them downstairs window insets were left in place. Which makes absolutely no sense at all. But that's pretty much par for the course with the contractor I hired, so I'm not surprised.
When it comes to painting, there is one rule that is absolute...
If you spend the time to mask and cover everything, you won't spill a drop and won't accidentally get paint where you shouldn't. If you don't spend the time to mask and cover, you will get paint on all the things you don't want paint to get on.
Every time I risk not masking, I regret it. This time I masked everything except the wall with the scrape behind my front door. Sure enough, I splattered paint all over my baseboard and my floor.
Will I ever learn?
Which is why loathe painting so much.
Posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2019
Today was my twice-annual HVAC checkup where a technician looks at my air conditioning and heating setup to see if it's going to last another six months. As one of the only two things left to replace in my house*, I feel like I'm rolling the dice every time they show up.
Apparently things look fine. The system is old, but well-maintained and in good shape, so fingers crossed. Losing air conditioning wouldn't be terrible since I rarely use it anyway. But heating? Yeah. Gotta have that. So I guess the real test will be my next check-up in six months. When once again I'll be rolling the dice to see if I have a hideous home home expense.
But, in the meanwhile... Full steam ahead on my kitchen remodel.
I cleaned out my garage and have started parking my car outside. I've unpacked all my tools and have drawn up plans. I've ordered a sample of the pocket hinges and pull-handle hardware I'm thinking about. I'm looking at paint. I've priced out countertop materials I'm interested in and started researching sinks.
This weekend I'll be hanging plastic sheeting in my garage to keep the crap stored there dust-free. Then I'll be setting up my tools and a space to work.
I guess we'll find out if I can build a kitchen.
*The other being my water heater. I'm sure that's just minutes away from dying.
Posted on Wednesday, April 24th, 2019
My pricey new Milwaukee cordless M18 Dual Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw is choice. I love it. But more on that later. Let's talk about my new Milwaukee cordless M18 Random Orbital Sander. When it was released last year, I took a hard pass because A) It was $99 without battery, and B) My corded sander works perfectly fine, and there was no sense spending money to replace it.
But last night as I was attempting to sand down my latest project, the cord on the sander snagged on a bottle of glue that was sitting next to a pan of kitty litter and both went crashing to the floor of my single-car-garage woodshed. There just aren't many outlets in a garage, so I'm always running into problem like this (as well as running out of outlets).
While attempting to clean up the horrendous disaster that comes from glue mixing with kitty litter, I suddenly realize that "Boy, a cordless sander sure would have been handy." Minutes later I was digging into my savings as I cruised Home Depot's website. In-store pickup, here I come...
I have no idea... none how I survived without this. I thought the battery would make it heavy and difficult to navigate. Nope. Far, far less difficult than wrangling a cord, even with the added weight. In fact, as shown in the photo, I have my medium M18 instead of my smaller M18 battery, and it's perfectly fine. The kit comes with a dust-catcher extender, so I even have the option of using my mega-battery on it if I wanted to!
And it's not just the lack of a cord that makes it so fantastic... it has multiple speeds (my old one didn't) and the random sanding "pattern" seems to do a better job of making quick work of large areas to boot. If you've already got some Milwaukee M18 batteries knocking around, the convenience of cordless is pretty much a no-brainer.
And then there's the Milwaukee cordless M18 Dual Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw...
I had no intention of replacing my faithful old Ryobi... until it went out of alignment and I couldn't get good cuts from it (nor get the laser guide to aim straight). Maybe somebody smarter than I could have figured out how to fix it, but I was done. My first instinct was to spend the $220 to get another Ryobi. It provided years of faithful service, was relatively inexpensive, and I was familiar with it. But then I saw that Milwaukee had a kit with an extra maximum performance M18 battery on sale for $600 (down from $850) and decided I'd spend the money on quality now rather than having to replace another Ryobi in 4 years...
My worries were A) A cordless saw would have much less power than a corded version, and B) All the reviews talked about what a shitty job it did of collecting dust.
Turns out that A) It has plenty of power to cut through anything I've thrown at it... including Trex decking and hardwoods, and B) All the reviews were right... the dust collection is so bad that I don't even know why they bother putting a bag on it in the first place since hardly any dust ends up in there.
The dust collection problem is annoying, but not a dealbreaker. No miter saw catches all the dust, so what's a little more? Still, you have to wonder what in the hell Milwaukee was thinking that they couldn't have done a better job of it.
Just as with every Milwaukee cordless tool I've ever owned, the benefits of going cordless far outweigh any drawbacks in the ultimate design. I can move it anywhere in my garage shop without having to unplug/plug which is great. I also have one less cord to trip over and one less outlet occupied, which is really great.
Dust collection aside, there are a number of things that Milwaukee gets right. First of all, they've done away with a laser guide in favor of a shadow cut-line indicator. Before using it, I thought this was a detriment. Because lasers are awesome, yo. But then I used it and realize what a huge boost to accuracy it is. A shadow of the actual blade not only shows you exactly where the cut occurs and how much material the blade will be removing... but it also will never go out of alignment, something that plagued my Ryobi...
Another thing I like is the design of the slider. With most miter saws, the tool slides along rails that poke out behind the saw on the top. With Milwaukee, the rails are inside the unit and on the bottom. It's just cleaner with less obstruction on top, though I have no idea if this could be a problem after dust ends up on the rails. How would you clean that? I dunno.
As is par for the course with Milwaukee, the little details are nicely accommodated. The blade cover locks open for easy access (I loathed having to fumble with it on my Ryobi every time I changed blades). Changing angle or bevel is not only fast and easy, but seriously balls-on accurate. On my old saw when I had to meet two 45° angles for a corner, there was always a slight error that crept into the mix. But with my Milwaukee, they meet up flawlessly every time on the first try, corner after corner. No more sanding or filler! Another plus? The saw is fairly lightweight and can be carried from the top or side. I keep mine permanently mounted on my awesome Rigid mobile folding stand, but it's nice to know I could transport it easily.
Ten out of Five Stars. Would purchase again.
As mentioned yesterday, I'm building a ledge tray for my banister to (hopefully) keep my cats safe in the stairwell. After work I had time to paint a base coat. All I have now is a light sanding and two more coats and it will be good to go (the carpet for the bottom arrives next week)...
This unanticipated little project has me chomping at the bit to get started on my kitchen cabinets! Now THERE is a job that will make good use of my pricey new toys!
Posted on Saturday, April 27th, 2019
Jake is doing so much better, so thanks to all of you who reached out with concern and kind words! He still limps... sometimes more than others, but he's showing vast improvement. I wouldn't be surprised if his limp is mostly gone in another week.
Right now my priority is keeping him safe from another fall.
When I design projects I also write out a task list and a schedule so I know how long it will take. For my new "banister cat tray" I had one evening allotted for construction. One evening to fill nail holes, sand, and prime. And one evening to smooth-sand and paint two coats. Which means I was ready to install it yesterday morning...
The carpet that goes on the bottom arrives on Wednesday. In the meanwhile, I hope things are a little safer for Jake and Jenny. At least Jake can't fall asleep... then fall off... so easily again.
From the bottom, it's not very obtrusive, which is nice...
I sent the photos to a friend who does carpentry... he replied with "DESIGN FAIL! Somebody using the hand railing for the stairs will run into your construction!"
I couldn't understand what he was talking about until I realized that the angle of the photo doesn't show the whole story. So I sent him this photo and said "YOU WERE SAYING?!?"...
Turns out I actually DO put some thought into my projects!
Eventually I want to build a narrow staircase so they can climb up to the banister instead of making a dangerous jump. Until I do that, I put a bench in front that they can use to hop up more easily. Jenny was the first to take a look...
And there you have it... a safer, conveniently cat-sized walkway!
And now to think about how I can build cat stairs... and a safety ledge for the windows above the stairwell where Jenny likes to play. A "feature" of my house that terrifies me to no end. The girl is fearless when it comes to heights. Which is fine. But only when it's reasonably safe! She likes to be totally UNSAFE, and it drives me crazy.
Until next Caturday...
Posted on Monday, August 12th, 2019
This morning I checked the local security camera system and noted that one of the hard drives in the mirrored storage array was reporting a fault. I have a spare drive for just such an occasion, so I swapped it out, rebuilt the mirror, and everything was up and running again in just a few minutes. Easy. Just for kicks, I thought I'd pop the failing drive into my drive dock and see what was on it.
Turns out... quite a lot!
Both the local cameras and cloud cameras are disabled when my mobile phone connects to my home wifi, so there's never any interesting footage to look at... just my cats sleeping and goofing off when I'm not home. But before I moved into my new place, the cameras were running 24/7. And while most of the footage has been recorded over hundreds of times, there are some clips that haven't been. Clips of my house just after I bought it when it was completely empty. Clips of my house undergoing renovations. Clips of my house having appliances and flooring installed. Clips of my house in the middle of the night with all the lights left on (I didn't have a security system or automated lights installed yet!). That kind of thing...
But the real surprise of the morning?
There was oodles of video footage I offloaded from my iPhone of Jake and Jenny when they were kittens! Stuff I had long since forgotten about... some of which I didn't even have backed up! No idea what that was about, but it's definitely backed up now!
And here's the actual video...
And that's not all... there's lots more video clips waiting for me...
Guess I don't have to worry about having stuff for my Caturday posts for a while.
And now... time to pack a suitcase.
Posted on Monday, January 20th, 2020
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Technically I have the day off but, given how behind I am at work (something not helped by being sick this past weekend), I really didn’t have the day off.
Yesterday afternoon I had somebody float the idea of creating a tiny house community. After ten seconds of thought, I decided I liked the idea. As I get older I am trying to rid myself of all my possessions so that cleaning up after me when I’m gone won’t be so much a burden. What better way to get rid of 90% of your stuff than to move into a place where there’s no room for it? Assuming a location existed where I could find work, I’d build my tiny house, drive it there, then set up until retirement. After I retire (assuming I get to retire) I can drive my home to wherever I want to end up.
Tiny house living might be a great option for me. Assuming I could find one which has a ground floor bedroom so I’m not having to climb up to a loft each night when I’m 90 years old (knock on wood).
What about Jake and Jenny?
Tiny house living with cats seems an almost impossible idea. For one thing, I think they’d go crazy if they were confined to a small space for extended periods. As it is now, they like to run all over the place and cutting down their room to roam by such a huge amount would be cruel, wouldn’t it?
And then there’s the smell of their litter boxes. I have Litter-Robots which actually do a pretty good job of containing smells, but that’s when there’s 1,800 square feet for it to dissipate. What happens in 240 square feet?
And so... I guess perhaps tiny house living isn’t such a great option for me after all.
And then last night I got to thinking... unless... what if the tiny house was built from the ground up with cats in mind?
An hour later I had roughed out an idea in Chief Architect Home Designer.
And here we are. Note that I don't know how to make a slant-roof in Home Designer, but that's the kind I would definitely use on this so the snow would slide off. It just has to be tall enough at the front-side for the Litter-Robots, and could slant towards the back no problem. Cat's don't need more than 18"-20" to run around...
Also not shown... wheels. The entire thing would be built on a trailer bed so it's movable.
Here's the back side with the catio attached. Note that Jake and Jenny would access the catio from a door in their loft...
Here you can see the upper track for the cats leading to the ventilated loft where their Litter-Robots would be located...
Here you can see how the Litter-Robots would be accessed from a door in the bedroom. An incline staircase would be lowered from the ceiling, the bed would be flipped up, and the staircase would attach beneath the door. You can also see how there are stairs leading up to the cat track (just as there are in the living room)...
You can see the vents in the cat loft here. I'd think that I'd probably get some near-silent, slow-moving fans to install in each. That would help keep small flying bugs which might get past the screen from entering while keeping any smells blowing outside...
Tiny houses are, well, tiny. There's no getting around it. I would likely have to build a small shed that I could transport with me to hold stuff I don't use that often but want to have handy. I still love the idea of a metal pipe hanging under the upper catwalk so I can hang stuff from it. As you can see from this render of the living room, there's plenty of room for it. Note that the catwalk has windows all the way around so Jake and Jenny can look out everywhere and not feel so confined...
A view from the catwalk in the bedroom for looking down at the unsuspecting human sleeping there...
The bathroom features a full-size toilet, vanity, cabinet, medicine cabinet, good-size tiled shower, plus a closet for electronics and a water supply (plus small water heater)...
In the kitchen I prioritized a good-sized refrigerator/freezer, a micro-convection oven, range top, and a decent-sized sink. You can see the "stairs" for the cats to access their catwalk here on the left...
Here's the blueprints. You can click on them to embiggen...
The best part? $80-$100K and you're done. Assuming there's space where you want to live, you'll never have to buy another house. You can just take it with you.
And it's not so bad, really! I mean, sure I'd rather have a proper-sized house... but if that's not possible, I could certainly live like this. And I'm pretty sure that since it was designed to keep cats happy, they could live like this as well.
One of these days when I have some free time, I'll have to figure out how to slant the roof and add scratching posts and stuff. Fun times. Fun times.
Posted on Friday, January 24th, 2020
It's funny how something can start out as a lark but snowball into something else entirely.
On Monday I wrote about how the tiny house craze might not work with me having cats, then designed a tiny home with cats in mind. The friend who asked me how I felt about tiny house communities posted my plans to a tiny house forum and, next thing you know, I've got a list of ideas from people who might actually want to attempt something like this!
As I had mentioned, I started with the idea of having a ventilated loft for the Litter-Robot litter boxes. The idea being that foul odors will tend to accumulate more easily in a tiny house, and it's better to plan for that from the start. Everything else just kinda fell into place.
There were some really, really good suggestions passed my way.
The biggest was that since I have a cat walk going all the way around the interior, I might as well add some storage underneath. I was also told that while I might not mind eating on the couch, a guest might feel otherwise, and it would be good to have a dining area... even if it was all collapsible.
And so... this morning while eating my Corn Flakes, I took the ideas that people had and revised my tiny house idea.
To make room for the dining table and add a window so you're not staring at a wall while you eat, I built cat "stairs" on the back of the door and added a pole so cats could climb up if they wanted to... along with small storage cupboards below the catwalk...
And here it is from above. Having a "catwalk" adds a lot of space for cats, and I changed the litter box loft so that they can access from both sides now, which would avoid congestion with more than one cat...
One person who was most enthusiastic about my plans asked if his-and-her closets could be added rather than hanging clothes everywhere. That sounded like a great idea, so I added closets (extending the home from 30' to 34') and also added corner shelving to the bedroom. Note that there are also cat stairs on the back of this door as well...
Plus dual poles in the corners so cats can climb up to the catwalk that way if they prefer...
I had to switch from barn doors to actual doors for the bathroom to accommodate the cat stairs, but I actually like that better. I thought that barn doors would be better because you wouldn't be opening the door into somebody but, hey, people can be careful. PLUS... now that I think about it, there's no reason the doors to the bathroom/passthrough couldn't open inward which would solve everything. There's definitely enough room for both doors to do that. Hmmmm...
And here's the updated main floor plan with the dining table, closets, shelves, storage, and catwalk access poles and stairs (click to embiggen)...
Note that the bathroom is slightly larger because I was told my electronics/water-tank closet was not big enough. Now it's plenty big enough for that and maybe some linens and towels! And now that I think about that... perhaps the washer/dryer unit would be better in the bathroom so the water tank and electronics were closer to the shower and kitchen sink. Nifty!
This was a really fun project! I may continue to tweak it as new ideas occur to me.
A pity I don't have millions of dollars laying around so I could buy a chunk of land for a tiny house community and actually build the thing. But who knows? Maybe somebody with money who wants to try tiny cat house living might take the idea and run with it?
Posted on Monday, June 15th, 2020
Home ownership is the money pit which never ends. No sooner than one expensive problem is solved than another pops up to take its place. Or, in my case, several things.
In an effort to save a hit to my wallet, I'm taking on the repair tasks myself. Some of them are difficult and require research. Others are easy but require money. My favorite things are those that are easy and cheap. Those tasks I tend to do right away because easy and cheap are my middle names.
Well, you know what I mean.
When I bought my new place, I had to do a lot of remodeling so my mother could live there safely. She couldn't walk on carpet very well, so I had to rip it out and put in hardwood. Simple tasks were becoming difficult and messy for her to manage, so I tried to accommodate that as well. I ripped out tubs and enlarged showers so it was easier for her to get in and out of... and clean. I also replaced the toilets from two-part standard models to one-piece "comfort height" models. I did whatever I could to make things easier for both of us.
I don't know if you have ever shopped for toilets, but single-piece models are expensive. Even the cheapest ones are double or even qradrupal what it costs for the standard stool/tank model that's commonly used. I ultimately went with Kohler because I found them on sale for $400 each (regular $600). Given that you can easily find decent 2-piece models for under $100 each, that's a heck of an investment.
You would think that a $400 toilet would have pretty good quality parts for the money.
Yeah... not so much.
From the get-go, both toilets would randomly start running for around a minute. At first I'd notice it happening a couple times a month. Then weekly. Then daily. Aghast at the water that was being wasted, I managed to fix the downstairs toilet just by taking it apart and putting it back together. The upstairs toilet, however, never managed to be fixed no matter how many times I worked on it. If anything it got worse, running 4 or 5 times a day. Because of the lockdown I ended up with extra time on my hands and decided to take another crack at it. I started taking it apart and... snap! The middle of the "AquaPiston" flush valve snapped. Rather than just buying a replacement for that, I decided to spend $20 and get an all new AquaPiston. Despite being advertised as having "leak-free performance," it was the only part that could really be the problem. Wanting to make sure that it was a genuine Kohler part and not a knock-off, I ordered direct from Kohler.
The part finally arrived and, viola, the problem was totally solved...
Apparently the AquaPiston which came with my toilet was defective.
Note in the photo above that the handle trip-rod has rusted. $400 doesn't get you a non-rust part, I guess.
I've now reached the point where the projects I'm facing are far more pricey. Some I can't even do myself. I was really hoping that this year would be the year I got to replace my countertops, sink, and garbage disposal. All of them are awful, and there are issues with the disposal that simply can't be fixed. The worst part is that it leaks underneath when the waste/water level gets too high. But it doesn't make much sense to replace it if I don't replace the sink (which is cheap, damaged, and looks terrible). And it makes no sense to replace the sink before replacing the countertops (which are just cheap and terrible). I was making good progress with my savings until the pandemic, now I don't know if it's an expense I can swing no matter how badly it's needed. Maybe I'll look into a home equity loan or something, because the longer I wait the more it's going to cost.
So much for having the luxury of being cheap and easy, I guess.
Posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 2020
I am trying to figure out exactly how big of a moron you have to be to attempt any kind of home renovations during a pandemic. I'm guessing it has to be fairly huge.
I am, of course, speaking from experience.
With an uncertain future ahead, I decided to bite the bullet and finally get around to the kitchen remodel that I wanted to do when I first bought the place almost five years ago. That was always in the plan because my kitchen is heinous, but I ran out of money. It's always bothered me, but it's not like I should really care. However... if I end up having to sell my home, the value will definitely drop if I don't have a much nicer kitchen than I do now.
So here we are. I liquidated my vacation fund since I won't be going on vacation any time soon and started planning. I found a countertop material I liked then scheduled the installation. They are measuring things out tomorrow, then installing two weeks later.
Which means I will be without a kitchen for at least two weeks.
Step one was to rip out my old countertops. Originally I was hiring a contractor to do it in July. But when they had to reschedule I decided to just bag it and do the tear-out myself. Not only would this save me some money, but it would also help to limit the number of potentially infectious people coming into my home. How hard could it be? Demo-day always looks like a piece of cake on all those home renovation shows!
Turns out it's a total nightmare. Whomever installed my laminate-over-particle-board countertops went way, way overboard. They laid down a stupid amount of glue... then nailed AND screwed them to the cabinetry. It was absurd. In some places there was so much glue that the particle board could only be removed in chunks with a chisel. A process I thought would take a couple hours ended up taking almost my entire day.
But the countertops weren't even the worst part.
That would be removing the cast-iron kitchen sink. The fucker was well over 100-lbs. Maybe a good 150-lbs. And as macho as I like to think I am (ha!) there's just no way. Not with something this big and unwieldy.
Since my new countertop measurements are being taken tomorrow, I could either A) pray I could find somebody to help me last-minute... or B) attempt to use brain over braun and see what happens.
I'll take door number two, Monty.
Much as I'd love to replace my kitchen floor, that's a dollar amount I do not have, so they are staying. But since a 150-lb. sink dropped on the floor would likely smash the tiles, I had to come up with a plan.
First I laid down a thick slab of heavy-foam insulation. Then I put wood on top of that. Then I constructed a cardboard "cradle" to flop the sink upon. This was tricky, because it needed to be designed to crumple. Otherwise the sink might bounce off the cardboard and smash the tile. I need it to fall flat. Then, just to cover my bases in case the sink didn't land as planned, I rolled in my winter snow tires and put them around my cradle...
I managed to pull the sink up on the countertop ledge...
Then... bombs away...
I left the faucet attached so I had something to grab onto, and that worked pretty well. My cardboard cradle slowed the fall then crumpled flat exactly as I designed it to do, so there was no bounce at all.
Then I had to wiggle a towel under my cradle so I could pull everything into my garage. Much like the way that aliens moved all those giant stone blocks when they built the pyramids.*
The rest of my night was spent chiseling glue. A futile gesture to be sure. I am going to have to use a belt sander to remove it and get down to the cabinets, which is crazy-stupid. I'm also going to have to repair a bunch of drywall, because whomever installed the backsplash used a warped piece of wood that they had to ANCHOR into the wall with steel flanges. Which means the only way to remove the backsplash was to literally rip it out of the wall. And that wasn't easy considering they used enough glue to repair the Titanic.
So... yay... I get to do drywall repair, which is like my most favorite thing in the world!
But I guess that's what you gotta do if you don't have money to throw at people to do the work for you. Unless you don't mind having big chunks torn out of your kitchen walls.
*Despite the fact that there are records showing exactly how the Egyptians built the pyramids, apparently it's easier for dumbasses to believe that aliens built them? Alrighty then.
Posted on Thursday, August 13th, 2020
For some reason, I thought the templating for my new countertops would happen with a tape measure and a pad of graph paper.
Not even close.
There's a templating machine which far more accurately measures the exact specifications needed to cut your countertops with scary precision. It looks kinda like a metal stylus attached to a wire that's attached to a measuring machine. I went looking on YouTube to see if there was a video of the thing and, sure enough, here it is...
Now I've got a two-week wait until my countertops have been cut and are installed... followed by a three day wait until my sink, faucet, garbage disposal, and disposal switch are installed. It's probably going to feel a lot longer than it actually is.
And while I can do without a sink and countertops for that amount time, I pretty much have to have a working dishwasher. My bathroom sink isn't big enough to do dishes, and washing them in the shower seems like an ordeal. And so... I've MacGyvered a pretty terrible solution using pipes and waterproof repair tape. It seems to work okay... but I definitely won't be running it unattended.
Everybody wish me luck that my kitchen doesn't end up underwater.