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Saturday, December 31, 2005

December 31, 2005

Happy New Year's Eve!

Since I won't likely write anything here tomorrow, I'll take the opportunity to write something here today, and wish everyone who happens to stumble across this blog-like section of the website a happy new year!

It doesn't seem like it should already be 2006; after all, where did 2005 go? Seems like so much happened that there wasn't time to breathe.

Yikes! Over a month this time...

Well, my apologies for anyone who might anxiously await new posts here; the time since Thanksgiving has been very busy this year, more so than normal. I'll go into detail below, but amongst work and other projects I've been tackling, I've had little time to spare at home (aside from sleep time). Compounded with the last of Beth's schoolwork (she completed her collegiate career just a few weeks ago) and what that meant for her spare time, it seems as though it's been a nightmare staying caught up with regular household things (let alone all the other busy holiday season stuff).

But anyway, enough of that. On to what's been going on in the last month or so...

Let's Start With Weather!

It seems as though it's finally going to be a regular winter season here in Minnesota. For the last several years we've had this tendency to have [very] little amounts of snowfall...until a brief bit in late January/early February which graces us with its presence for a few weeks before going away.

This year, we actually had a regular, proper White Christmas. We've had several 'several-inch' snowfalls so far this season. We've also had some good old cold. It's melted off here and there (as temperatures hover in the 30's some days, specifically this last two weeks), but after a recent 6-8" snowfall on Thursday night, there are some places in the backyard (as of this morning) which were knee deep. Where it's not drifted (or blown clean), however, we've got a pretty good 6-10" snow cover, which is a welcome change from years past. Of course, it makes some things more difficult, but overall, it's nice to have some snow to go with the cold. Seems to make it more palatable. smile

We had quite an ice storm in late November. It didn't really directly affect us at home, but one only needs to go about 10 miles either North or West to encounter the ice nastiness. Some places were without power for over a week due to the ice accumulation. While we did indeed encounter some ice here during that storm system, it quickly transitioned to snow and kept us out of the same situation as the aforementioned (thankfully). The snow was, however, quite thick, wet, and being blown in from the South which meant we needed to go clean off the satellite dishes more than once during that brief time. Have I mentioned I prefer cold(er) snow to the near-freezing stuff? smile It's just so much easier to deal with.

Anyway, we should have no shortage of the white stuff this year, and that's a Good Thing. We'll see how the rest of the winter turns out now.

One-Act Is On!

Well, as I mentioned in the last news post, One-Act has begun. As of today, we've only cast the show and held an initial script distribution meeting. The actual hardcore rehearsal time starts on Tuesday (January 3). We've got a good (and small) group of students this year, and that's always nice. We're also doing a slightly different type of show (from what I would normally do) in that we're doing cuttings of Shakespeare (thanks to Beth, because there's no way I would do this myself). Combined with the fact that we've been moved into a different sub-section this year (which means we're not competing at the first level with the same people with whom we've become accustomed), this One-Act season should be a really enjoyable one...although I know the kids don't feel the same way about that.

Anyway, One-Act always does take up some of my time during the month of December, so I mentioned it here...

Structured Wiring

Aside from my own day job, the single most time-demanding thing with which I was involved had to be the completion of my folks' new house. I don't recall if I'd mentioned it here before or not, but I was essentially the 'low-voltage contractor' of the project. The electrician more or less did what I'd asked, and I completed the termination and distribution job.

What this means is that in a storage room in their basement is an enclosure (about 23"wx23"hx13"d) which is the distribution point for all of their voice/video/data (structured) wiring. Each room in the house is wired for all three, and it was my job to make that happen. From keystone (jacks) to punchdown, that was me.

I've got some pictures of the completed job, but they're not online right now. Perhaps I'll get them up sometime and write about the job and how it was accomplished. Overall it was a good experience (although there are always stumbling blocks), but that took some time to get set up and configured. Combined with the occasional trip to see the progress of the rest of the house, we spent several weekends and much time down there during the project's completion.

So, while I wanted to do at least part of my own structured wiring before I did theirs, they beat me to it. So, perhaps after One-Act is over I'll get some time to start on my own wiring project (which is going to be a little more complex than theirs due to what I intend to run over some of my Cat5e wiring).

With that, Moving...

Of course, [my parents'] goal was to be moved in and whatnot by Christmas. This meant that we needed to help them make the nearly two-mile move, which we did the weekend before Christmas (for the big items). This was a weekend in and of itself, but nobody got hurt and everything got moved just fine. They're still in the process of moving some smaller items and other things which weren't packed up and not overly important right away, which I imagine will take a few months yet.

But, they're now in their new house and are enjoying it quite a bit. I might add that Beth and I enjoy it much more as well, specifically due to the lack of indoor smoking which is no longer allowed in the new house (that's what heated garages are for, after all). It's so much nicer to not come back home and smell like a bar for a week.

Whole-House Humidification

Recently, I believe it was at Home Depot, I encountered a small section of the store which was dedicated to humidification control. There were whole-house humidifier units there for a few hundred dollars which claim to work better at controlling the humidity throughout the home.

We've gone through a few humidifiers in the time I've been 'independent'...and the one thing I've hated about them all is the fact that most commercially-available humidifier units have a wick filter which only lasts for a few weeks before becoming grossly inefficient (not to mention very nasty looking). They also don't do a great job in controlling the humidity house-wide (although they do a great job in the vicinity of the unit). In addition to that, the humidifier filters seem to run between $6-10 each...and only last a month at best. Take into account that the unit itself is $35-70, and it's easy to spend $50 a [heating] season in filters alone, and it's not very long before one pays for a spendier unit which needs a filter change just once or maybe twice a heating season if the water is really bad.

I was intrigued by the 'whole-house' idea and, while not a new idea to me -- my grandparents have had a unit like that forever and when I was very young my parents had the same sort of deal), I'd never really thought about installing one myself.

So, I did some research and looked around for different brands/styles/etc. I discovered that there are two basic types of whole-house humidifier. One which works on duct pressure to pull air through a small 'filter' saturated with water (a bypass unit), and the other which works by actively drawing air through by use of a fan through the same sort of filter unit (a power-fan unit). Due to the basic difference of how these are installed (the bypass one would be substantially more work in my case), I chose to go with the power-fan style.

Now that I'd selected a type, it was time to select manufacturer and model. I was really only able to find two major manufacturers (Honeywell and Aprilaire), so that made comparisons between models significantly easier.

It wasn't long before I chose to go with the Aprilaire Model 700 with separate current-sensing relay. This was particularly based upon price. The equivalent Honeywell unit (the unit itself, without humidistat) was about $50 more than the Aprilaire. In addition, the Aprilaire unit came with the humidistat, outdoor temperature sensor (for true automatic humidity control), and some other 'optional' features of the Honeywell model. Furthermore, the Aprilaire filters (I didn't even look at the Honeywell ones for comparison) are about $10 each, and only need to be replaced once per year.

So, I found a reasonable price on eBay and in short order had everything I needed (after a trip to the local hardware store once all the parts arrived and I had a shopping list for installation).

Installation took a few hours, mostly due to the nature of the work. While not rocket science type of work, it was major work and I would not recommend this job to anyone who doesn't feel comfortable messing with plumbing or elecricity.

The work mostly entailed cutting two various-sized holes (one about 6" rectangular, the other about 16" square) in (my case) the cold-air return plenum for the furnace, installing the unit and sealing it up, hooking up the outdoor sensor, tapping into and installing the water supply line and drain tubing, and last but not least, running power to the unit, both 120v (regular outlet plug) and 24v (control wires from the furnace). With the installation of a current-sensing relay (my furnace doesn't have an accessory 24v terminal, so I have to use a relay to sense when the furnace fan is on which doesn't allow the unit to run when the furnace isn't on), the unit tested out perfectly and has made a huge difference in the house.

So, that was a relatively major project, but was well worth doing it myself (as opposed to hiring it done by someone else). Combined with the fact that the unit controls itself, never needs to be filled with water, and only requires minimal maintenance, it was a $200 investment very well worth it.


Well, I think my last little blip here will be related to Christmas. Aside from not having much time to get out and obtain gifts for people (until the last minute), we had a pretty good time. Overall, we were gone for six nights, spent at two different locations with a brief stint at home between. It was good to see some people we've not for a while, but you'd swear we'd abandoned the cats by their responses when we got home. Not even the dog was this bad. So, we've been giving all the animals much attention since our return, and hopefully they'll finally figure out that they were not abandoned and forget the whole deal. smile It wasn't like we left them without food or anything. smile

Until Next Time...

...and I'm not sure when that will be...Thanks for your cooperation (and Happy New Year)!

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Sunday, November 27, 2005

November 27, 2005

Eesh, a Month...again!?!

Well, I guess I've been slacking off here...because I've not updated this more frequently in the last month.

We've been pretty busy with Thanksgiving and all that good well as just the regular fall activities. But enough of the excuses...

Lighting issues...

Many have already heard the story of the yard light, and most of them would shudder and/or threaten bad things if I mention it again. But, this is my space, so here goes the somewhat abridged version.

About a month ago, we had a brief issue with our yard light -- in that it didn't come on for several hours after it got dark. This was a little frustrating but not exactly surprising since the unit was getting old and I figured would need some work eventually.

So, after some discussion and thought, I decided to go with a new 70W High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) fixture (this one gives off an orange-ish light) and replace the older (presumably 150-175W Mercury Vapor fixture (which gave off a bluish-green light).

The primary reason for changing styles was that the HPS fixture is more energy-efficient than any other fixture (MH or MV) available -- yes, I am trying to save the planet. smile I can get approximately the same amount of light (that I need) out of the 70W fixture than I was getting out of a several year old MV lamp. The second reason for switching was related to the close proximity of the light fixture to the house. In other words, we were having a hell of a bug problem last summer (as was noted in several posts here this fall)...possibly in part due to the type of light cast on the house.

I know it's become a bit of an urban legend that those old yellow 'bug lights' actually kept bugs away, but in some of my research about these fixtures, there were some points made about color rendering and the relationship to how bugs 'like' the light. Here again, due to the close proximity of the house to the fixture, we'll see what happens...but anything would be better than last summer.

So anyway, I bought a new fixture at Home Depot one weekend and installed it shortly thereafter. Mind you, it gets dark quite quickly now that we're back on Standard Time...and it's also November in Minnesota. So, one afternoon I break out my 12' ladder and set it up against my 15' yard light pole (which is strapped to the backside of the garage). After removing power to the circuit, I took down the old fixture leaving the mounting arm in place (the new fixture will mount appropriately to the same arm as the old one). While I had the fixture down, I took the opportunity to run new outdoor 12/2 romex to the fixture, replacing the old stuff and actually allowing me to properly ground my Internet satellite dish. So, I put the new fixture up and got it leveled and mounted. All is good.

I then mounted a new double-gang box in the garage (replacing or rather 'expanding' the single-gang outlet box which used to be there) which allowed me to move the outlet and also put in an override switch for the yard light. Yes, this light has the same photoelectric sensor (eye) as the old one and will come on at dusk and go off at dawn, but previously I had no way to completely turn off the light if I deemed necessary. Given the size of our yard and whatnot, I decided this would be a nice feature to have.

Anyway, I finished up the job before dark and waited for the light to come on, which it did as expected and worked beautifully. So, all was well, and the next day I decided to finish up the remainder of the electrical work I wanted to do in the garage (I needed to mount a new GFCI 'wet' box on the outside of the garage, replacing the previous outlet which was there and also protecting the entire garage (and light)). So, I removed the old wet location box and installed the new, much nicer, box and connected the lead to the double-gang box I had installed the day before (keep in mind nothing changed on the work I'd done the day before). All was well, until dark. The yard light didn't come on. At all.

So, Matt went into diagnostic mode. There was power to the garage, the override switch for the light was on (so there was power to the fixture), and nothing had changed with any wiring (aside from the supply power to the garage). So, in the dark, I grabbed a flashlight and my ladder...determined once again to 'climb the pole' and figure out what was going on.

Long story short, every time the pole/fixture shook a little bit (from vibration, etc.), the light would flicker as if trying to come on. This was perplexing, and after some tinkering, I decided to wait until the next day and call a tech support line I'd noticed in the directions. I figured it was probably a bad ballast or ignitor, in either case would likely imply a return to Home Depot for an exchange.

The very nice lady gave me some suggestions, and that afternoon I went to remove the fixture to do some diagnostics on it. As I climbed up to unhook the unit, it appeared to me as though the HPS lamp was possibly burned out. This was not surprising, but could have been the cause of the problem.

So, while inside the garage I did some diagnostics as I'd been instructed. No luck. Everything looked fine...except for the appearance of the lamp itself (which could have burned out due to a ballast/ignitor problem). Particularly convincing (as to lamp failure) was the presence of a small piece of loose glass inside the lamp body, which implied to me lamp failure of an unusual nature. So, I put the fixture back up sans lamp and went to a local hardware store to pick up a new lamp. I figured that if the new lamp fixed the problem (and came on for several days afterward as normal), things were good and I just got a bum lamp in the box with the fixture.

It just so turned out that seems to be the case. The fixture has operated normally ever since, and the yard light is back in its new orange glory.

Miscellaneous Projects

I've tinkered and wrapped up a few random projects around the house, like replacing the fuel oil filter for the furnace, cleaning up the basement for the most part, and so on. Still haven't put plastic on a few of the upstairs windows, but I expect to get to that this week before it gets too cold out. So far for the year we've only burned about 30 gallons of fuel in the eight weeks or so since we've started the furnace; the majority of that (I'd bet 15 gallons) were used in the last two weeks during a bit of a cold spell. But here again, every little bit... I've also managed to change a few common light bulbs to the CFL type, namely the commonly used ones (above the kitchen sink -- which has been there for some time), one in the basement (less common), and a few smaller ones in our office lamps. Of all the light fixtures on the main floor, only the two in the bathroom, the dining room fixture (they don't make CFL's for that type), and the three-way lamp in the living room haven't been converted. We'll see how this affects the electric bill.

Dog to Pasture...

Beth moved Koshka to her 'winter pasture' this last week before Thanksgiving. She's now attached via chain to the aforementioned yard light pole behind the garage. This is a more convenient location for us in the winter since she'll be easier to get to. That, and we're able to plug in her heated dog water bowl (to the aforementioned outdoor GFCI outlet) to keep that ice-free for the wintertime. She seems to like the move so far, except for the fact that she can see us more often (which I think often frustrates her) since one of the office windows faces the garage.

Aside from that...

...I picked up some DVD-R's this afternoon along with a 512MB USB flash drive (I couldn't beat the price -- 512MB for $27 on sale instead of normal $59). I've still got some random (and varied) computer projects to work on here in the next if we indeed get this winter weather tonight/tomorrow/tomorrow night -- 6 inches of snow plus wind -- I might take the opportunity to get some of that stuff done and start really gearing up for One-Act (which is less than two weeks from auditions).

So, until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Sunday, October 30, 2005

October 30, 2005

A Clean Datacenter = A Happy Datacenter

Okay, so it may not be a real datacenter, but it's my home datacenter. And as of this afternoon, it's clean. Last weekend (early) when I was assembling computer parts and whatnot, I took the opportunity to clean out my good machine and Beth's computer (namely due to parts installations). I was intending to do the remaining [server] machines as well, but that just didn't happen. So, I took the time this afternoon to clean them up (namely vacuuming). I'm happy to report that all things are acceptable (the fans are still running) and the servers should be happy now that they're clean again. At least for a few more months. smile It did require a bit of downtime (bringing down the network), but it was time well spent.

Final Outdoor Projects

I took time yesterday (Saturday) to do more winterizing. I covered the one kitchen window with plastic (as we don't have a storm window for it and I ran out of time to work on converting one of the screen windows of that size we've got to a storm window), and took the oppportunity to do something similar to the air conditioner. I was initially going to buy a cover for it. When I couldn't find an appropriate size (there's a support bracket which causes all sorts of problems), I decided to perhaps build a wooden box cover for it. That was still my intention until yesterday morning, when I discovered that I was just a bit short of plywood to complete the project. So, plastic it was, and at least it's better than nothing (which is what we had last year).

Probably the most substantial of all projects I completed yesterday was the installation of a new sillcock (faucet). Now, this wasn't just a replacement for the existing sillcock (which was in need of replacement), but an addition to the overall system. Namely, after this installation was complete, I am now able to control whether soft or hard water is sent to the faucet. Better yet, I have check valves in place which prevent (in particular) the introduction of hard water into the soft water system (in the event a valve is left open). It required a bit of soldering and whatnot, and as of this project's completion, the entire house has been re-plumbed for water.

There's only one other outdoor project I'd like to complete in a few weeks is to install a new (GFCI) outdoor outlet box on the garage; a kit which Beth picked up for me on Saturday (which is why it isn't already done).

So until next time...

...that's all I've got to report. I managed to enjoy the return to Standard Time with the additional hour of sleep this morning. Hope the same applies for anyone actually reading this.

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

October 25, 2005

Computer Parts!

I put in a pretty large order for about three people early last week and had parts in hand on Thursday/Friday of last week. This meant that I got to take some time away from the regular projects to do some computer maintenance and whatnot.

I built a new machine for one person, got some spare parts for another, and finally took time to get a video capture card and DVD-RW and 80GB HDD for myself. smile

After some configuration, I can now watch and record TV/Video on my computer (fundamentally turning it into a DVR unit when it's hooked to one of our satellite receivers), which is really cool. I also got the model with the FM tuner, so I can also listen to radio. But, I think my favorite option is the remote control which came with the unit. Not that I intend to use it a lot...but it's cool to have a remote for the computer. smile

So, now that I have all the equipment, I will be able to take some old home-grown VHS stuff and burn it on DVD, thus preserving the material. I haven't yet burned a DVD (namely because I haven't bought any discs yet), but that's just a matter of time.

So, aside from that stuff, replacing some case fans and swapping parts between machines, and giving the non-server boxen a good internal vacuuming, we should be good to go for a while in the computer department.

Upcoming Computer Parts

I am currently shopping for replacement batteries for a few of my APC Back-UPS units which are aging. They're reasonable (compared to buying an entirely new model) in price, so perhaps sometime in the next few weeks I'll have placed an order and get all of them running in good order again. I'm also, however, looking for a high-output model to replace an older non-swappable battery unit I have which has died out. That, however, looks like I am going to spend between $150 and $200 to accomplish. But, it will all be good in the end, because my current [non-APC] UPS unit for the server (was cheap, and now I know why) doesn't even suppress a brief (2-3 second) outage.

Until Next Time...

...that's about all I've got to mention right at the moment. We'll see what happens with the new parts or the antics...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Sunday, October 16, 2005

October 16, 2005

The Last [Partial] Lawnmowing

I took the opportunity today (Sunday) to go over the bits of lawn (namely where we filled in and raised the backyard) where it has been growing quite a bit over the last few weeks. I didn't mow the entire lawn (as the entirety doesn't require it), but I figure that what I did mow today will pretty much end up where it was before it dies out for the year.

While I was at it, and since it'll likely be the last mowing of the year, I took the opportunity to remove the mower deck and powerwash it. After this time, I put it in storage mode (in the back of the tool shed) for easy removal next spring when I'll re-attach it to the tractor.

I also took some time to 'winterize' the various machines. Primarily this meant to add fuel stabilizer to all the fuel sources and tanks, and in the case of the powerwasher it meant running it completely dry and out of gas. After this was all done, I briefly swept out the shed and put everything back in order. So, with that, pretty much all outdoor work has been completed.

Oh yeah, earlier this week I took the time to powerwash the tool shed and garage, both projects I'd mentioned in the last post.

Corn Harvest

The other night (I believe it was Friday evening), the farmers who farm the field around our place here harvested the corn. It looks much different out there now (you can see again now that the 8-10' corn plants are gone)...and another sign of the impending wintertime.

Milder than Expected

Considering that I've kept the thermostat in 'Heat' mode for the last week and a half or so, it's run surprisingly little. It's been quite warm during the day, so most of the time it runs just a bit right away in the morning and then never again until the next morning. Far as I can tell (from the weatherman), this trend is supposed to continue for the next week or so, with highs in the 60's... We shall see. After all, there's a 50% chance it'll be 'mild' this winter. smile


It was very nice to shower upstairs in the bathroom for the last week. Unfortunately, this trend has to take a short-term hiatus while another project 'cures.' I took the time over the weekend to 'paint' the bathtub (I did this on both Saturday and Sunday, different coats). This is a special product very much like those professional organizations use, except on a smaller scale. It's an epoxy/acrylic thing, and stinks quite badly (although I have to admit that construction adhesive is much worse as far as fumes go). It also takes 2-3 coats to really get it sealed up proper. However, I can truly say that the tub looks much nicer than before and nearly looks like new (at least it's not all yellowed and whatnot).

The unfortunate thing about the tub is that the paint takes about three days to fully cure before it can be exposed to water, so it's been back to the shower in the basement for the next few days (Thursday morning will be the first it can be used again). During this time, I'll re-seal up where the surround meets the tub edge and allow that time to cure as well. So, it's not the end of the world -- at least I can wait for a few things to get cured at the same time.

The other major project that I managed to accomplish this weekend is related to the bathroom floor. As in, it's complete. I bought a piece of subflooring material on Thursday afternoon. Friday evening we went to Menards (and a few other places) to pick up some other supplies for various projects -- this was when we got the bathtub paint.

So, Saturday it was time to do the flooring!

This required a pretty major deal -- removing the toilet temporarily during this period. While removing the toilet itself wasn't such a big deal (and it was a really good opportunity to get the tank cleaned out (and also replace a flush valve which had been acting up)), the thought of 'messing up' on this was, in a word, shitty. After all, we have but one toilet in this house -- and it was to be out of commission for a period of time.

Anyway, I removed the toilet, then went to the basement with measurements for the subfloor material and cut away. After a few dry-fit attempts and a few minor adjustments, the subfloor went into place, was glued, and then nailed into position. It should not be going anywhere. Oh yeah, before I got that far I also had to bring the gap (where the closet wall used to be) up to the approximate level of the remainder of the floor, which was done with old 12" square vinyl tiles cut to fit.

So after the subfloor went into place, it was time to start laying the new floor. We'd picked out the self-adhesive tiles some time ago (in fact, I think we'd pretty much picked that out before Easter (or maybe even Christmas)), and it was just a matter of doing the job. So, I went about installing them (one by one) -- and the job moved quite quickly. Even factoring in the tiles which had to be cut. I left a half (cut) row of tiles out near the edge of the tub so I could recoat it with the bathtub paint later, but as of Saturday evening, most of the flooring had been installed and looked pretty good. Before I wrapped things up for the evening, I also installed the new carpet threshold piece where the carpet meets the new tile.

And today (after I recoated the tub and mowed the lawn/did outside stuff), I cut and installed the remainder of the floor tile. It looks damn different (and good). The project is really nearing completion now. All we need to do is paint the window casing and window (which I will do sometime before Thursday morning while the bathroom is somewhat out of commission in regards to the high-humidity environment), install the door casing and baseboard (which may have to wait until we pick an appropriate trim color), and do the last of the caulking around the bathtub (which will also be done sometime before Thursday).

Last but not least is to deal with the vanity sinktop, which still needs to be glued down and sealed up around the edges. That's a rainy day project, though, and will come later (most likely when I have the caulk gun out) or maybe as early as when I do the last sealing up of the bathtub.

So anyway, the end is really in sight now. Some touch-up paint and a little miscellaneous stuff here and there, and the long-in-coming bathroom project will be complete. Woohoo!

Until Next Time...

...that's about all I've got to say. I'm sure there's other stuff (like I haven't yet won the Powerball -- of course, nobody else has either), but it's all minor... smile

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Monday, October 10, 2005

October 10, 2005

Not Quite a Month...

...since the last post, which is a Good Thing.

Much has transpired in the last few weeks since the September 24 post. I'm very happy to report that many of the issues mentioned in the previous post have been taken care of. But more about those below...

A new TWiki Version

After the news of a recent 'breakin' to a TWiki installation I'm familiar with and happen to be a user on (although I've not done anything there since my UMM days), I decided that it would be a Good Thing to do some patching and upgrading to the installation here at MZ Online. I finally took the opportunity to do so on Saturday and Sunday evening (October 8-9). The bulk of the upgrade had been done on Saturday evening, with the new installation in place with existing data. Sunday evening's work pretty much entailed adding and customizing the new installation to match the features I'd had in the previous installation. For instance, the addition of CLEARSPACEDTOPIC (ex. %CLEARSPACEDTOPIC%) which is a slight modification of SPACEDTOPIC (ex. News%20*October%20*1005) which I use in the header/display information of the main MZ Online website (which is powered in part by this TWiki installation.

Fortunately, there was an upgrade 'patch' available for this process which, while it didn't make it completely trivial, made the process go much quicker if you ask me. At least since I hadn't worked on the mechanics here for some time.

So, as I write this now, we're using the most current TWiki installation. I have a few more installations around the intranet both here at home and at work which need to be updated and another semi-public installation which needs to be updated, but those should fall into place much better than this installation as there's no custom additions/modifications to how TWiki works for those.

Outdoor projects

House Washing

I have to say that I love the powerwasher. I definitely need to get one of these for myself at some point in time! While it still took a fair amount of time to do all the washing I needed, it went much better than doing it completely by hand. Combined with my 12' articulated ladder, I was able to make fairly quick work of the job, although it still took an entire afternoon to accomplish. But, the house looks much better now and should be good for another year or better.

Storm Window Project

Well, I have to admit that I've been a bit of a maniac in the last few weeks. Namely in regards to getting this outdoor stuff taken care of. First and foremost was the completion of the storm window project. This was a bit of a nightmare (in the amount of work and time involved), but now that it's done, there's minimal work involved in maintenance from here on out. The primary problem behind this entire project is that (due to many reasons far out of my control -- e.g. we've only owned the house for less than a year-and-a-half) the semi-regular maintenance which could have been done on the storm windows had been badly neglected, which only made the problem worse.

On the plus side, the job is now complete (at least for the winter) and there's only one window I absolutely will need to take out in the spring to fix. As it turned out, I was trying to be quick about one window in particular and didn't take enough time to get all the old glazing compound out of the rim. What essentially happened (as I was installing the window) is that the slight resulting bend in the pane of glass proved to be too much and a crack formed. It's on a window that's not particularly visible from the front of the house, so it worked out alright and will work alright for the winter. It will, however, need to be replaced and fixed sometime next year.

One of the main things I did when installing the refinished storm windows was to leave a weep hole in the bottom of each window. The rest of the storm was thoroughly caulked to seal it off properly. One of the primary problems I encountered on a few (namely the windows in the front of the house) of the storm windows was related to water problems. Not water leaking into the window, but rather the effects of trapped moisture between the window and storm window. The storms had been sealed up so tightly that there was no place for any additional (regular) moisture to go. This was the primary reason most of the paint and glazing on the four front windows had been failing. In fact, one was in such bad shape that I had to use a replacement (extra) window which wasn't rotten on the bottom.

But anyway, they're all in place, re-glazed, and should be in much better shape than before. We'll see how they fare the wintertime and if there's anything which needs to be addressed next spring related to them. But, that's one (major) project down...

Winterized Lawn...

I took the time one evening to spread out the lawn winterizer I'd bought. This really didn't take that long to do, and we'll see how it helps a few portions of the lawn (there are a few places where it doesn't grow as nice as others) next year.

Heating Time! frown

Well, I finally bit the bullet and had a local company deliver some fuel for the heating season. I also got signed up for a program they offer so they keep things full (which means I won't have to pay out the ass for being stupid and waiting forever). For the time being, I got enough fuel to last (if it's an average fall/winter) into late December or early January. That (half barrel) of fuel cost more or less what it cost to fill it completely last year. frown

One thing I can definitely be glad about is that this house is relatively efficient, specifically given the fact that it's nearly 60 years in age. In talking to other people, they're in a much different boat than I am related to what fuel will cost them for a season. I don't recall right off hand (the numbers are in the file cabinet), but last year it cost about $800 to heat the house for the entire season (October - April). My guess is that it will cost anywhere between $1200-1400 to do the same thing this year.

Although, I'm doing/have done about as much as I can think of off hand (on the cheap side) to prevent POTA (Paying Out The Ass). I reglazed and re-set the storm windows downstairs (which should help somewhat significantly), I installed foam gaskets on the outside wall switches and outlets, did the programmable thermostat thing (which I mentioned in the last post), and have had the furnace tuned up. I figure that for a few of the windows upstairs (and maybe the one window downstairs in the kitchen which doesn't have a proper storm window) we might end up doing some plastic insulation kits at some point in time.

And speaking of the furnace tune-up, I was quite happy to see those results. It turns out that the furnace (with a dirty air filter, I might add -- I didn't change it until after the tune-up due to the fact I wanted to see the result at its worst and we were also wrapping up some stuff in the bathroom (which was causing dust to be stirred up) runs between 82-85% efficient. Considering it's a few years old and an oil furnace, that's about as good as it gets. The information I've read basically implies that anything for oil over 80% is high efficiency and anything over 85% is pretty amazing, so I figure it's about as good as it gets. Combined with the lack of carbon monoxide and good oxygen circulation, it should be in good shape for another season.

Bathroom Status

As I noted somewhere above, I've been a bit of a maniac these past two weeks. What I can say about that is many projects have been completed in this time. Both outdoor and indoor.

Most notably indoor is the relative completion of the bathroom project. As of this last weekend (namely Sunday, October 9), we have been able to take showers and baths in the upstairs (main level) bathroom. I fixed the bathroom window which had been cracked and in bad shape, then replaced the window trim. After that point in time, it was a matter of doing some painting (thanks to Beth) and then the installation of the tub surround (which took a few days to complete due to the glue setting and trim kit, etc.). Once the tub surround had been installed, it took a day or so to set and cure after the sealant had been applied to all the joints.

In the meantime, I installed the piece of paneling which went behind the toilet and on the other side of the window from the tub surround. It was amazing to see how 'real' the bathroom looked after all that work had been done. Here again, now that it's been sealed up and whatnot, it's ready to be used.

I also took a few minutes to deal with the ductwork (cleaning what had fallen into the duct during the demolition phase a long time ago) and got it ready to accept [the bathroom's] new register. After that got all sealed up, I was happy to announce that we could control the amount of heat entering the bathroom (the previous register had no louver controls and made the feet quite uncomfortable while at the toilet while the furnace was running).

Of course, one of the main things that really made the bathroom 'real' happened to be the installation of the towel bars and robe hook. It's amazing how the entire room actually seems to be usable instead of just another project in mid-completion. The actual end is finally in sight!

At this point in time, there are a handful of things which need yet to be done. The flooring still needs to be installed. We've already got the floor tile, but I need to go get a piece of appropriate subflooring which will smooth out the existing surface. That's the last major piece of the puzzle. The existing flooring is currently still in place. There's some paint work yet to be done, namely wih balancing out the two wall colors on the long wall. There's also some window work to be done, mostly in the paint and touch-up department. The sink needs to be glued down on the vanity and sealed up around the edges, and the bathtub needs to have the flaking paint scraped down a bit and then be re-painted.

At that time, the bathroom will actually be complete...and it will be on to the next project!

It's only taken damn near a year! The rest will depend upon schedule and other stuff.

Miscellaneous To-Do

One of the things I now want to get done outside (probably one of the last things) is to powerwash the garage and tool shed. They're in pretty ugly shape like the one side of the house had been, and since these buildings aren't insulated, I can be a little more liberal with how I go about washing them (I don't have to be quite as careful in keeping water out from underneath the siding, for instance). Of course, these buildings are smaller, so this shouldn't really be a problem anyway, but amongst that and wrapping up those smaller bathroom projects, I should have a few weeks of random work left before moving on to the next project.


...that's about all for now. Thought I'd bring things up-to-date here, so until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Saturday, September 24, 2005

September 24, 2005

So it's been more than a month...

...since my last post, which is not exactly what I'd like to say. But, such is life, I guess.

Anyway, much has transpired since the last installment. Of course, not necessarily in the way I'd like to present, but much has taken place nonetheless.

Autumn Has Arrived!

Well, as of the other day, it's officially fall. This is most definitely a change, I have to say, on more than one front. For starters, it means that the hustle-and-bustle of summertime is finally (and officially) gone and things wind down some. That's positive news. On the flipside, however, it means that all those other outdoor projects need to be wrapped up before too long (after all, we're now in the official 'Snow Season' of MN).

An End to the Summer...

After my last post, we took time to do the traditional end-of-summer stuff -- do a little pre-fall shopping (a trip to a place we don't often go to), etc. Weekends seemed to be packed with various activities and whatnot. Probably the most memorable was our trip (over labor day weekend) to the State Fair. I had personally never been there before (although I'd driven by the fairgrounds) the three days we spent there were definitely a good time. Of course, having an actual [private] place to keep our stuff (and relax) on the fairgrounds was a huge benefit. Made things a whole lot more palatable, especially on the evening it rained.

Anyway, after the long weekend at the State Fair, we went back to the grindstone...

Bathroom Status

Every time I write one of these, I look back at (at least) the most recent post to see if there's anything I need to address in the follow-up. My words came back to haunt me this time. In the August 14 post, I stated "I'm fairly convinced that within two weeks we'll have a completely painted bathroom..."

Umm, yeah...

Obviously this wasn't the case. However, I can say that it wasn't exactly the case either. We were quite busy the following two weeks from that post, but I still managed to take some time here and there to finish up the drywall sanding and preparations. I even managed to get some of the other drywall fixes taken care of (namely in the alcove where we'd previously installed the vanity) which had already been painted.

I don't recall exactly when I finished the sanding portion of the project (but I have to say that wet sanding beats the hell out of dry sanding), but as of today (with the exception of the ceiling), every non-floor surface in the bathroom is either painted or has been primed. The only times I've been able to work on the ceiling (for priming/painting) have been in the evenings. Due to the fact I need to place dropcloths and whatnot around the room (and I still need light without the overhead fixture on), the dropcloth-light contact is not a good thing. Moral of the story is that the ceiling is ready to be primed/painted but hasn't because it's always been getting dark when I get to that project. One of these days (in the short term), I'll get that done in the light (so I don't need artificial light).

I also took the opportunity during the priming to remove the window jamb and lower sash so I could replace the pane of glass. A crack had formed (it was always there) and over the course of a year had spread across the pane. I've procured the glass replacement, but just haven't done the swap and re-glazing quite yet. This is likely to happen this upcoming week (see more about the upcoming week below).

So, in all actuality the bathroom really is progressing. Unfortunately, sans paint, it will not be in a showerable state until after I get the window reinstalled and trimmed out (due to the shower surround needing to be cut near the window). But, we're planning a trip soon to get door and window trim as well as baseboard. Finally, the end is near...

Outdoor Status

Well, unfortunately, the second coat of window trim paint has still not yet been applied and the storm windows are not yet completely ready to go. Compound this with a recent influx (over the last month) of insects claiming the lit (at night) side of the house as 'home' and it was obvious to hold off on a second coat of paint and storm installation until after a thorough house washing has been completed.

I am procuring a powerwasher tomorrow (Sunday) for some time, and thereafter the house will get cleaned. Hooray!

I also took some time today to finally work on the storm windows I'd previously removed (and an extra I found in the basement). I set up a small shop operation in the garage and went to work with the scraping, sanding, and removal of deteriorated glazing compound. It's the latter which was truly the needed part in most cases, although the scraping didn't hurt at all. smile

For the three storm windows, they're ready to be glazed, primed and painted. Then comes the fun part -- installation! It's a real Pain In The Ass to do, but it's done now and the easy part is left (for those I've got available). So, after I powerwash the house, I will then put a second coat of trim paint up and do all the storm window stuff (and deal with the lower bathroom sash replacement). This means I can get at least the back half of the house ready for wintertime.

And speaking of which, I took the time today to cut back the large, overgrown bush objects in the front of the house (namely the two which were preventing me easy access to the front windows). This is a little bit on the early side, but time is no longer on my side. I'm holding off on starting the furnace as long as I can (more about that below)...partially because I would like the windows to be ready for the wintertime before I start paying out the ass to heat the house (fortunately the house (for its age) is relatively efficient and sealed or sealable).

I didn't take down the storm windows in bad need of attention just yet (I figure I'll wait until after I do the washing and other stuff), but I now have decent access to those areas and will be able to do it in a fairly short order.

While I was outside today (namely before/after I did the bush cutting), I took some time to clean out/organize our little tool shed in the backyard. It was getting quite crowded it seemed and just needed some organizational TLC. I didn't really sweep it out (I'm holding off on that for a while yet since I'm still actively mowing the lawn) just yet, but there's now room to store everything (and then some) AND be able to walk around. This is clearly a Good Thing.

I bought some grass fertilizer (why I need this is another question entirely -- it grows enough as is it seems) and winterizer/weed killer last weekend. This is mostly for the weed killer effect (the idea is to kill the weeds off before everything dies for the winter, thus taking it longer to arrive in the springtime since the root structures will have been killed off) I can fire up my spreader here shortly after the next lawnmowing (which will be soon).

CTAM Conference

I know this seems thrown in here (and to a degree, it is), but I don't want to forget about it. Last weekend (September 16-17), the Communication and Theater Association of Minnesota held its annual conference in Mankato, MN. For various reasons (namely the fact that I'm a Theatre Educator by doing One-Act), I decided to go. Furthermore, Beth wanted to go due to her involvement with One-Act/Speech in the past and in the future.

So, we took the opportunity to do something different by attending this event. I have to say that I had a really good and educational time. Once I take a test, I will be registered as a Speech/One-Act judge by the MSHSL (State High School League). I am doing this mostly for myself...and saying that I can. smile

But anyway, we sat in on many neat and varied sessions throughout the conference time and had a good time. I was able to see and meet some familiar names/faces in the crowd and would have to say that, assuming the conference schedule is appealing next year, I will intend to attend again (say that ten times fast).

Heating Time!

As I noted before, I'm trying to hold off as long as possible before starting up (or switching on, rather) the furnace. I am really not looking forward to buying fuel this year due to that whole fiasco with prices (which is another reason I'm holding off on starting it since I will shortly thereafter need to get fuel).

So, this is a good time to work on making things a little tighter around here so Matt doesn't have to buy as much fuel this season. I've done a few things thus far (and intend to do more as the next weeks commence), and hopefully will see some sort of return on this adjustment.

The first and probably most cool thing I've done is replaced the old thermostat. I figure this will also be the single most cost-effective thing I can do as well. I've thought about this for some time, but while we were at Home Depot in St. Cloud/Waite Park a month or so ago, I noticed that they had several [Honeywell] models on sale. I figured I'd spend anywhere between $50-80 for a replacement thermostat, and it just so happens that the model I chose (normally $85, sale price $55) fell into that category.

It's quite a neat device. It is programmable to four different 'time periods' per day, for three different 'day types' (e.g. weekday, Saturday, Sunday). And it's automatic. But one of the coolest things I like about it is the backlit display (convenient in the dark when I head for bed after turning off the light) and also the filter change reminder. This is a configurable setting to remind me when to change the filter.

It's a little bit overkill in that it can also control a cooling system (we don't have central air at this time), but I figure at some point in time we'll be able to simply add that in without much trouble (and without a new thermostat).

Anyway, with automatic settings for climate control, I figure I will be able to recup my investment in a short period of time (especially with fuel at the current price).

I'm also dealing with the window reglazing and whatnot, which should help quite a bit in some cases where there was obvious leakage (we had a few windows last winter which were semi-frequently fogged over).

Another project I'm going to do here when I don't feel like doing anything else is to install foam gaskets in all of the switchboxes/outlet boxes on all exterior walls. This, oddly enough, was an item I figured I'd have to go buy (I was intending to do this anyway). It just so turned out that they were being given away at two locations at the state fair. This meant that over a course of time I procured several sets for free and should be able to cover all these sources of air movement for free.

Yes, I'm cheap. It's foam.

Also, at the end of this week I will be getting the furnace tuned up. I figure that this will also make things a little better for the winter.

As a somewhat related but not quite note, I bought a few more fire extinguishers and a new CO/Smoke alarm and installed these (actually mounted them) appropriately.

TV is High, Miscellaneous Projects

I had thought about it a long time ago, but happened to see it come on sale in the Menards flyer a few weeks ago. TV wall mounts. This would be a good idea for our bedroom, and the price was also right. So, I went and got it, installed it, and life is good. It's definitely not going to come off the wall, though. Three 1/4" diameter, 2.5" lag screws imply no movement. This is a Good Thing.

I also did some straightening up in the basement and organized/put away tools. This was a much needed thing since they were everywhere after the plumbing and other projects of the last six months and is the precursor to one of the winter projects below.

Announcement of the Winter Project

While we were in the St. Cloud area, I took the time to obtain some more pieces of the 'total home network' package. Matt's wintertime project will be to do some voice/video/data wiring throughout the house. This will most definitely be a Good Thing.

Another wintertime project (we'll see how far this gets) is to seal up the basement (something akin to Drylock). After this is done, I want to essentially build a bit of a mini-shop in the basement (essentially a large section of pegboard, a workbench, and some shelving) to make life easier. It also will help take some of the beating off the washer and dryer, which typically end up being my workbench as it currently stands.

Alright, I've had enough...

...and my guess is that if anyone actually read all of this...well, that's not likely...

So, I'll wrap this up and say, "Until Next Time..."

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Sunday, August 14, 2005

August 14, 2005

Week-End Project Update

Well, it turns out that, if given enough time and determination, things do actually get accomplished. smile

Granted, not completely...but...

"I Can See Clearly Now..."

Anyway, the state of the world at week's end is better than at its commencement. The outside window trim on the aforementioned scraped windows has been re-caulked, received a coat of primer, and has a first coat of paint. Hooray! I haven't had much of a chance to work on the storm windows as of this time, but the caulk and paint thing was of a bigger priority in the event of rain (after all, the storm stuff can be done in the garage even when it's raining).

Gas Station Burritos? Not a problem!

I also took some time this weekend (when not mowing the lawn or doing other miscellaneous jobs) and put the tailpiece of the bathroom exhaust fan in place. This required cutting a hole in the exterior of the house from the attic space behind the upstairs kneewall (which is the location to which I had run the conduit and ductwork mentioned in previous postings) and completing the job.

It wasn't terribly difficult, aside from juggling all the equipment atop the ladder outside. Once my locator hole was drilled (from a suitable location inside), I did the cutting and whatnot from the ladder outside. It took some time and patience (along with a good hole saw and utility knift) with the vinyl siding, but it went smoothly. I also managed to put it in an ideal location in relation to the siding.

Once the job was all sealed up from the outside, I got down from the ladder to take a look at it -- it's really an object you have to be looking for since it blends in nicely. Of course, then the remaining portion of attaching the ductwork in the attic to the tailpiece and sealing up that whatnot took place. I am happy to report that, after re-applying power to the fan unit, it is working just as expected. One step closer to a completed bathroom.

Sanding, sanding, sanding...

Related to that project, I have made some progress on the front. Most of the wall surfaces themselves (and even the portion of the ceiling above the bathtub/toilet area) are ready to be painted and soon primed. It's the corners, however, which need some additional TLC. The problem in the area is that they're quite difficult (not to mention numerous) to reach in some cases. This makes the enjoyment level spiral downward. It also makes it much harder to concentrate (standing on the edge of a bathtub leaned against a wall isn't the most comfortable position).

However, that said, I've gotten over half of the large area in the bathroom more or less ready for a final coat of mud (mostly just over the corner joints). Matt's goal for this week is to (weather pending -- meaning it might be Wednesday or the weekend before it gets re-atttempted) get the entire larger area ready for prime/paint. It's getting closer, but I can tell you in two words why I'm not a drywall contractor -- it sucks. smile

But, it's progress, and I'm fairly convinced that within two weeks we'll have a completely painted bathroom, which only leaves the flooring and trim work to deal with (I need to lay down a very thin substrate just to smooth out the transition between floors (e.g. where the closet wall used to be)). However, we already have the flooring in place, and I'm sure once that's done the trim will be procured in short order.

It was a 'Fair' Time...

We took last Friday afternoon as our yearly 'jaunt to the fair' day -- it was as it always has been. It's a good time walking around, eating some unique foods and seeing people you never see except at the fair. Add in the free parking/general admission, and you can't go wrong. smile

Anyway...'s getting past my bedtime, so I'll leave it all at that. Until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

August 10, 2005

Project Progress!

Well, last week while driving home from work (my normal 'think & wind-down' time) I decided to take the better part of this week off from work (use up some vacation time) to get some stuff done around here. While I've done very little for the bathroom (short of remove the window jambs so I could get the lower pane out for replacement) project at this time, I have made some substantial progress outside.

I've taken the 'sunny days' during this time to focus on some badly needed outdoor maintenance -- namely in the window department. It should've been done last summer/fall, but with moving in and all that stuff there was never enough time available. The outdoor (window) maintenance is primarily related to scraping/repainting the window trim and re-glazing storm windows. I'll deal with the screen windows I'll actually install next year during the winter, since I'll only have to deal with a few of them (versus all of the lower level storm windows) since I have no intention of ever opening the windows on the front side of the house.

So far I've got half of the main level windows scraped and primed. I'll paint tomorrow (Thursday) given un-rainy weather. Then, of the other half of the main level windows are another story. They're all on the front side of the house, where two very large bushes reside. I might be able to work on a few of them, but I might just end up waiting to do all the scraping (I should be able to at least get the storm windows off and worked on in the meantime) until later in the fall when I'm intending to cut the bushes down for the winter. We'll see about that.

Far as the windows upstairs go, they also need some attention (not as badly as the ones downstairs for the most part), but that might have to wait until next year or at least this fall.

And as far as the bathroom...well, if it's raining or too nasty to work outside...then I'll go to that project. Here again, it's mostly some more finishing work left there.

Anyway, until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Sunday, July 24, 2005

July 24, 2005

Stormy Weekend

Well, we definitely got a little shot of rain -- according to my gauge, just over 1.5 inches...although with the wind, it's very difficult to actually estimate what really fell.

Saturday morning (around 8AM), we got pummeled by a really quite nasty-looking storm. What a way to wake up. smile

It's one of the few times that I've noticed absolutely zero-visibility due to rain. Also, one of the few times I've actually seen the 'wall of water' literally arrive. Many times, heavy rainfall kinda arrives in a slow buildup (or even fast buildup). In this case, it was literally not here now, and here now.

Anyway, accompanied by this rainfall were some quite stiff winds. While we only had the usual few [small] branches down in the yard, other places in the area weren't so fortunate. As I found out this morning, a neighbor (about 1.75 miles away) had his largest grain bin (empty at the time) ripped from five of its anchor bolts (and caved in a section of the roof). It's still on the ground (the other anchors are still in place), but still... Another person (this is more like 4-5 miles from here) lost his machine shed. It's quite a sight right at the moment, actually -- all the machinery is in the same place, but the shed is upside-down in what used to be the yard right next to the shed. It's almost as if the northwestern wall was peeled away from the ground and opened up like a can top (the roof is touching the ground).

There were also several trees affected by this storm in the vicinity (5-10 miles). We were quite fortunate to not be affected by this, and as of this morning things seem to be mostly cleaned up around the area (at least the large trees and whatnot on people's yards, etc.).

More Bathroom...

Well, I've applied the first coat of mud to the remaining joints in the bathroom (namely the larger gaps where the new sheetrock meets the old plaster walls at the ceiling) on Saturday, but due to the high humidity and whatnot, as of this evening most of it's finally dry. It looks like I will be making small attempts to sand and finish these joints so the walls can be finished sometime during this week and into next weekend. Progress nonetheless, but not as much as I'd hoped. Ah well.

Server Issues

As it turns out, something I've long been knowing is blantantly in need of correction. You see, in our office here at home, we've got four (4) battery back up units (UPS's). Well, three of them for some time have been in need of a replacement battery unit...and I've known this (but been a little too frugal/cheap to buy replacements). Two of the units are models where the actual battery can be replaced; the other is an older unit where the entire thing must be replaced.

In all actuality, only two (of the three) are still in use as UPS's, so I could get away with just replacing two. But that's another discussion for another day.

So, Saturday morning we were having several power fluctuations (see storm information above). While the power never completely went out, earlier in the morning (I believe it was on the order of 4-5AM), the UPS unit on which my servers run must have tried to kick over to battery to relieve a sag. In doing so, the unit temporarily shut down and killed the power to one of my server boxen (namely the important one -- the router).

At first, when Beth brought this to my attention mere minutes before the storm hit, it appeared as though the power supply of the aging system had gone awry. I made initial frantic attempts to bring the network back up (we had Internet service at that time (the clouds weren't yet bad enough)) so we could check weather radar online, but it became clear that the scanner/weather radio, local radio, and an eye to the sky were going to be the best options in the short term (especially if a power supply were out -- since I don't have a replacement for the old AT form-factor case).

So anyway, after the storm passed, I did some investigative work. I initially ruled out the possibility of a bad or failing UPS unit, since all the other items using its power were functioning properly. When I unplugged the troubled server unit for a few minutes (to investigate) and then plugged it back in to start (with the same UPS unit), all was well -- it was online again (as were we before I temporarily re-routed the Satellite Modem to the network hub instead of directly to the router box). So, I did some more investigative work and things seemed to be working fine.

I put everything back in its place and went about my day.

Until an hour or so later.

I was sitting at my computer doing something or other, when I heard the unit in question 'click' over to battery power. It got a lot quieter at the same time. Here again, the server box in question had lost power (although the other unit was still chugging along). Same as before, the symptom of pressing the power button (which is a solid-state switch in an older AT case) did nothing until I unplugged the unit and plugged it back in again.

At this time, I decided it best to use the other old UPS unit (the unused one) as a temporary measure until a replacement battery can arrive for the regular unit. Since then, I have had no further power issues with the server in question.

Now, it's possible that it could be a combination of things, not just the battery capacity of the UPS unit. It could be the older server's power supply doing strange things (causing a chain reaction); it could also be the UPS unit itself. More work will need to be done in the future, but for now at least things are relatively normal.

But, here again, it's always a good idea to have a backup! In my case, this is the option to bypass the router/firewall (which I would not normally recommend) in times of system failure. At least this provides us the communication medium without wholly depending on an older set of hardware.

I will wrap this up with another sidebar about power protection -- USE UPS EQUIPMENT!

I cannot stress enough how much this is likely to save you in the event of power fluctuations (sags, surges, outages). Now, I've let mine go a little long, but they've always had enough capacity (until just recently -- the last week or so) to kick in during sags (which is what we encounter the most frequently where we live)...which is invariably why (I believe) we have had no major hardware failures on any of this equipment in the last five or more years.

They may be expensive (don't be cheap like me... smile ), but they can certainly save time and effort down the road.

Aside from that...

...I've babbled enough about random things. Until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

July 19, 2005

Feelin' hot, Hot, HOT!

We've had an unusual (compared to recent years) hot spell here in July, with (I believe) 11 straight days of 90+ degree (F) temperatures. If I recall the statistic correctly, that's not happened since 1988. While it's good to (finally) see a warm summer again (it seems as though the last several years have been cool summers, mild winters)'d be nice to have some more rain.

I've started to put out the sprinkler in key parts of the lawn (namely the larger portions where it was seeded this spring) since it's more susceptible to the lack of moisture due to its lack of establishment. According to the radar tonight, it looks as though we might get a little bit of free watering, but I don't anticipate much.

Regardless, it seems as though it's either one thing or the other... smile

On the other hand, it's been good growing weather. The corn is now tasseling out and has been at or above my head since around July 4 around here...and the soybean rows have filled in -- things are looking pretty good, at least for the short term. We'll see what happens if the rain situation continues.

Scraggly Puppy

Well, Koshka is losing her winter coat (finally), which is kind of late in the year. However, since she was born in mid-November of 2004, it doesn't surprise me that it's taken so long. She looks right now like a half-shorn sheep -- pretty scruffy, but day by day it's getting better.

Interesting Cat Observation

We obviously have two cats (George and Felix, the latter being the 'older' although the former being the 'firstborn' to us). They have very different personalities. For instance, George is much more 'active' in many ways. He's also very attached to me (as am I to him). Felix is much more 'passive' in many ways, with the exception of his playing (which I might add seems more like how a cat should play in contrast with how George plays). He's very much attached to Beth, and that's reciprocated. We each have our own cat.

Anyway, I happened to be in the basement one evening working on a miscellaneous project when I noticed the two of them eating at their side-by-side steel food bowl contraption. I noticed this because their large ID tags make a clinking noise against the stainless steel of the bowls. So, I watched them for a while (because they weren't playing and yet right next to each other). I noticed a very shocking difference in how they consume their food. Namely, George eats like how I would consider 'normal' in the cat world. He takes smaller bites and takes his time. Felix, on the other hand, I think I will have to refer to as 'the power shovel.'

Keep in mind that both cats have teeth yet and are in good shape. But Felix literally drops his lower jaw and pushes food to the opposite side of the bowl, where it eventually fills his mouth to capacity on the upswing. Then he attempts to eat the mouthful. And I wonder why he's occasionally making kitty regurgitation messes on the white carpet upstairs...

Camping Excursion

We took the opportunity over this last weekend to go camping, something which I've never really done before. We ended up at a very nice little campsite in Itasca State Park, where we spent two nights.

The experience was good; I'd have to say I'd do it again. However, one moment in particular sticks out as being very cool.

One morning (before driving around the park (which spreads into three different counties)), we stopped by the rental shop to check out the prices for bicycles. Now, pretty much anywhere you can go with a car (and many more places), there are bicycle trails. So, we were going to take some time and partake of this. Only upon reaching the storefront did we realize that they had tandem bikes available. Now, I've never done the tandem bike thing (but always found it intriguing), so upon finding out that [tandem rentals] are double a single rental (e.g. we'd pay no more than for two individual bikes), we took up the opportunity.

I'd have to say that the first 50 feet or so are the worst. It takes a little getting used to with the balancing (just because it's more than one person), but after just a short distance, we had the pattern down pretty well. In fact, by the time we returned an hour later, we were getting really good at 'launching' (which is the most difficult part).

I saw a picture around here somewhere...and perhaps I'll get one put up (amongst the many others I need to update) at some time. But, that's one more thing I can cross off my list of 'things I always thought would be cool to try...'

WCCO Radio Streams!

This is an exciting time for Matt. smile You see, I keep my pickup radio (and generally the car radio, when I'm in the car) to WCCO (AM) 830. I would love nothing more than to be able to have it on as background noise at work. Unfortunately, the fact that my office is inside a concrete bunker (facing northwest as well) and that the broadcast point is 150 miles to the southeast, I just can't receive it with my little radio in the office. frown

So, over the period of time I've worked in the office, I have mingled around with some more local stations (which is just fine) and, most recently for the longest period of time, settled on KMRS (AM) 1230 out of Morris. Easy to get, always available (since the broadcast point is only about 1.5 miles to the east) in all weather conditions, and has good local news and whatnot.

In the last few weeks, I discovered (via WCCO advertising as I listened on my way to/from work) that they had started streaming! So, after a few days of ignoring it, I tried it at work.

Much to my excitement, it's crystal-clear and has very minimal latency. For instance, when they're doing news and traffic, I haven't noticed much more than maybe 15-30 seconds latency -- which impressed me.

Furthermore, since I monitor the office bandwidth usage (for statistical purposes), I was excited to see that it only draws about 4.5K/second, which is well within our bandwidth capacity (it's less than half). This means that for our everyday usage (unless someone's downloading large files, etc.), the stream doesn't cut out at all. This helps make Matt happy.

So, the dilemma has now been which station to tune. After some careful thought, I've decided that I will stick to the KMRS thing for the morning hours (to get caught up on the local/regional stuff as well as the other informational and agricultural programming they have on before noon), and sometime in the afternoon switch over to WCCO. There's a particular segment of the afternoon programming I really like, and I also like that they simulcast the 5pm television news on the radio, so when I'm at work past 5pm (which is often) I can get a full hour of both television news and radio news (the latter half-hour) while I work, without the distraction of a regular television.

The question now is in how productive I can be. smile I'd have to say that the last several weeks have been very productive for me (and I'm not kidding, either) with several major things coming to completion (or at least satisfaction). So, the change in 'background noise' doesn't seem to have any ill-effect on my productivity. smile


Short of that, I can't think of anything in particular that's exciting or new. It is a goal to hopefully finish the remainder of the drywall taping and miscellaneous stuff (so it'll just be finish work) in the bathroom this weekend -- that's of course contingent upon the weather conditions and whether or not I spend a few hours mowing the lawn.

Anyway...until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Thursday, July 7, 2005

July 7, 2005

Slowing Down?

It's hit that odd time of the summer where Independence Day has passed, which generally means things should slow down some? Yeah, right.

It seems as though we've been 'booked solid' through the middle of the month. Even after that. The calendar seems to fill up so fast -- after all, it's as though the summertime is nearly half over (not to take the pessimistic view). frown

July 4th Weekend!

Well, another Independence Day has come and gone, and I was able to celebrate in a particularly flame-boyant way. Introducing... The Rodenator!

It's a RodeNation!

Okay, that's a rather silly play on words, simply because my experience with The Rodenator took place over the holiday weekend. See more about The Rodenator online!

Anyway, the moral of the story is that you essentially blow things up underground, thusly killing the underground rodents (in our case, pocket gophers). While most of the time the explosive effect is minimal (low thump, small cracks in the ground above the tunnels), once in a while you encounter the "Explosion of a Lifetime." This is what happened to me...

I was on my second attempt at [personally] using the Rodenator when I stumbled across what I thought to be a potentially 'explosive' situation. Of course, by the time I realized this, the gas was already 'we couldn't just leave it' if you know what I mean. smile In fact, I believe my exact words were 'how much you want to bet this is going to blow up my ass?'

I wasn't far off...

I have never seen so much dirt fly in my life. At least not as the by-product of an oxygen/propane combustion. I wasn't personally blown up, but two fairly good-sized holes (a few inches in diameter) were right at my feet. But, an area quite literally about 20 feet square was quite literally disheveled. This tunnel system was quite close to the surface; that said, the concussion from the explosion blew the roof structure into orbit. Several-inch wide trenches were visible to the naked eye. Where the tops had gone is anyone's guess, but some dirt definitely flew during this visit. smile

It was absolutely hilarious to see, and even better knowing that I'd blown this up. smile

So, I can guarantee that blowing things up is a huge stress reliever and source of great fun on occasion (as long as you have something to blow up).

Aside from that...'s been life as usual, pretty much. Until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

June 21, 2005

A Busy Month!

Well, I have to say that I've been meaning to write up some more stuff here, but I've just been overwhelmed by things going on in the last three weeks or so.

For starters, the last three weekends have (more or less) been busy with various events we've attended, compounded with the ever-present need to finish the bathroom project prior to our own fiesta (which was last weekend (June 18)).

But, I have to say that it's been a fun time (the previous weekends) getting together with folks and having some fun.

Bathroom Status

Well, I'm again happy to report that the walls (and ceiling) are back up, conduit has been run from the basement into the attic, and it's a matter of finishing off the walls and doing trim/finishing work (after painting, etc.). Well, that and the flooring.

One nice thing about our party last weekend was the need to get the bathroom into a 'presentable' state (where at least the walls were covered and whatnot). It's more or less a matter of finishing off the drywall joints (specifically at the ceiling level) and then applying paint. It's coming along nicely and looks much different with walls in place again!


Aside from the recent influx of mosquitos and other bugs (specifically after our two-week period where on the order of 4" rain fell), things are doing well outside. The most recently seeded grass is coming up and will thicken up in relatively short order now...especially if this heat (summer finally arrived) continues for very long.

Anniversary tomorrow!

Well, as of tomorrow evening, we'll have been married officially for three years. It doesn't really seem all that long, but has been a good run. smile Hope for more continuation of that trend in the future!

Odds & Ends

You know, I started writing this with grand intentions of rambling about pretty much anything and everything. However, since I've started writing it, I've encountered a bit of a block which is currently preventing me from recalling all the stuff (and more specifically, details) which I was going to write about.

Ah well, until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Monday, May 30, 2005

May 30, 2005

Brief Hiatus

Well, I managed to take a nearly two-week hiatus from these musings, but I'm very happy to report that much has taken place in this time:

Bathroom Status

Phase one of the project is complete! It was completed on May 22 in the [late] evening. Since that time, we have been using the new sink in the new location, and the bathtub has been enabled (although one would not want to shower due to the lack of the surround installation, etc.).

It went just about as planned. I spent the better part of that Saturday (May 21) working on the last of the supply plumbing, including the installation of all the individual shutoff valves at the stubouts. After mowing and finishing the lawn on Sunday (which is about a three-hour project by the time the push mowing is done and the weed eater has touched up what the rider cannot), I migrated to the plumbing. It took about an hour and a half to make the switch, mostly because I had to cut away some of the old plumbing in order to make the last of the connections to the new stuff.

I am very happy to report that my massive soldering job was well done -- not a single leak in the entire system!

So, as of today, I've installed the ductwork (at least into the attic area) for the exhaust fan (and yes, the fan is temporarily disconnected until I get the vent to the outside) and gotten the remaining walls up. I removed the old pedestal sink earlier this week (it was Thursday evening), so it's just a matter of tearing down the final wall and running conduit and new electrical wires, then replacing the old plaster wall with new drywall. smile

Outdoor Status

The new grass has actually been mowed! It's been growing quite well for the last two weeks or so, and I'm quite pleased with how it's looking. I've as of tonight overseeded in some of the thinner spots, but it's good to see some progress in the outdoor appearance department. I also took some time and finally installed the basement window wells and finished the grading around the house to promote positive runoff (away from the house). So, I also seeded those portions of the lawn. In short order, the outside will look completely good again!

Another Birthday

Yes, I had another birthday, and have reached the big 'quarter century' mark. Normally, I'd have a pretty uneventful birthday, but this year was just active enough to be positive. I made a major (strangely enough, hardware) breakthrough at work that day, and even went to a small gathering (not birthday related) in the evening after stopping for a few after work. smile

So, turning the big 25 went well.

Aside from that...

...I'm sure there's much I'm forgetting, but it's time for bed here shortly. So I leave it at this...until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

May 17, 2005

Not quite so long this time...

Yes, I managed to get a news entry in here in just over a week from the last one -- not bad, but I actually have things to mention as well...

Bathroom Status

Well, I'm happy to report that substantial progress towards the completion of phase 1 of the bathroom project has been made. Over the weekend, I put up the vanity cabinet side of the aforementioned wall I didn't want to mess with until necessary. The taping and initial layer of mud has been applied to the entire alcove area where the new vanity setup will be. It is the goal to have the area completed and ready to install [the cabinet] by this weekend.

This means that the remainder of the plumbing can be done...and thusly more progress towards getting phase 2 (the removal of the fourth wall, installation of ductwork and conduit to the upstairs level, the new flooring, and the last of the re-wiring completed. While I don't anticipate phase 2 to take that much time (more time will be required to do the demolition work since it's essentially just a tear-down and rebuild of a wall with minimal other additives), that work cannot begin until [at least] the new sink is in place.

So, we're back on track to getting this complete!

Outdoor Status

Well, the grass I seeded over the top of the backfill (see the last post) in the backyard is finally starting to come up. We'll have to see how it looks in another week. At this time, it looks like I'll need to do some filling in here and there, but it's deceptive since the weather has been very odd here the last two weeks (below normal temps and a fair amount of moisture) only time will tell.

Salt Mine Status

Things have been progressing nicely at work. The particular project I've been focused on for the last few months has come to the deployment phase as our internal testing has been completed. It's an exciting time since we've managed to essentially create a completely scalable data management solution (complete from handheld to a desktop to a centralized server) for Agronomists. We've had the setup working in-house for about a month now, and as of the last two weeks or so, I've focused primarily on taking our installation and configuration and bundling it up for distribution.

The initial deployment tests are positive. There are a few bugs to work out, but by the end of this week we are going to have something deployable. For the company, this is essentially the first major completion of this 'vision of the application' in its several-year life. There have been many standalone versions before now, but now there's a scalable version to suit the [changing] needs of our clients...which is Very Cool.


...that's about all I've got to mention righ toff hand; Until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Monday, May 9, 2005

May 9, 2005

A Busy Month

Well, as time would seem to imply, I've taken yet another month-long hiatus from writing these news items. frown It's an odd phenomenon, that time thing, but Einstein seemed to have it figured out, so that makes it better.

Anyway, on to the news of the last month:

Work, Work, Work...

It's the name of the game. Fortunately, in the last month or so, I've managed to get many questions answered and several solutions in place for distributing the server-based application for larger operations. That, and the inevitable bugfixes and enhancements that come along.

Fortunately, the various projects are each progressing, so that's clearly a Good Thing. The only bad thing is that it generally consumes my Monday-Friday schedule.

Bathroom Progress?

Sadly, here again, not much has been made in the way of progress in the bathroom. Fortunately, however, I did manage to wrangle up some time to do some cleaning up in the basement. This means there's more room to work down there, so it means that we'll be able to maneuver a bit better than before.

Far as the plumbing thing goes, it's more or less ready to go live, with a few exceptions. All of the larger pieces are soldered up and just need the final connections. So, this whole project (at least the plumbing side) is just a few more little projects from completion.

The bathroom proper has two hang-ups. One is the vanity cabinet which still needs to get finished. The second is a section of wall which I don't want to put up until the time the vanity cabinet is nearing completion (it will jut out into the room and make it much more difficult to maneuver until the old sink is removed) minimize the discomfort, so to speak.

Outdoor Progress!

One of the major projects which has put the bathroom project on hold was the completion of the re-grading and backfilling of the backyard. After the new septic tanks were installed last summer, by mid-fall, the backfill had settled and was in need of correction (e.g. more dirt) to level it out with the remainder of the backyard. At the same time, there were some other places in the backyard and around the yard in general where I wanted to do some fixing. Minor holes and a long trough pretty much sum it up.

The intention was to fix this problem last fall; however, due to the intense rain we received which prolonged the crop harvest, it was simply too wet to obtain and/or use any dirt. Furthermore, since the dirt we were going to use is on our little half-acre of field to the East, things just didn't work out for last fall...especially when it pretty much froze before we could get out there.

So, I made arrangements to borrow a neighbor's skid loader to do some dirt moving. It took about 6 hours to move the dirt (start to finish), but we raised the ground level in the backyard (over the septic tanks) a foot in some spots...and it looks much better. Quick use of a rake has gotten it fairly smooth and leveled out (at least to match the rest of the yard)...and a few runs over with the lawnmower (just for weight to compress)'s in good shape.

While we had the opportunity, I used the skid loader to do some backfilling around the house to raise the grade a bit and promote positive drainage. This portion of the project is (more or less complete), but still needs significant work to finish out...because the window wells need to be installed, etc.

So, after this was done, it was time to procure grass seed and a broadcast spreader. After doing so and applying the seed to the various areas, it's just been a lot of watering and keeping an eye on it. Fortunately, while nothing's germinated just yet, the birds haven't been too we should be able to get something out of this seeding.

I've also managed to get some of the other yard work complete (which means that now I should have more time to again focus on indoor projects), so while I've not necessarily gotten things that I wanted to get done three months ago taken care of...I haven't been sitting on my ass, either... smile

The most interesting aspect of all this yard work is that we've had to keep the dog out of the backyard (and we'll have to do some more seeding around the house once the grading is finally complete), but that's a different story...

Speaking of the dog...

...she got taken in to get fixed this last week. She's survived and is doing well, but try telling a husky that she's not able to run for several days following the surgery. Needless to say, she's quite stir-crazy and just sleeps a lot -- presumably out of boredom. She's also been moved to a different side of the house from her 'normal' she's quite confused as of late.

But anyway, that's more or less the happenings of the last month. Hopefully I can keep up on these better in the next month or so. Of course, I always say that...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

Sunday, April 10, 2005

April 10, 2005

Dog Antics

Well, due to my workload at work and the dog issues, not much has taken place this last week on the order of getting work accomplished on the bathroom project.

However, yesterday (Saturday) we were able to get the house more or less clean in a fairly thorough sense (with the exception of the basement which has become my workshop and hold for all the bathroom stuff which isn't yet in place. We also managed to get the yard no longer looking like a trailer park (we had a weird pen/barricade sort of thing set up to catch the dog (more about that later) which consisted of boards, pieces of sheet metal, garbage cans, etc. It just looked like hell, but it was a necessary evil.

So, while the bathroom is still in the same state (more or less), the remainder of the house and yard look much better, which is clearly a Good Thing.

More Dog Antics

So anyway, as noted in the last post, we got a dog. Well, we paid for and picked up a dog.

To make a long story short, we got her home, she had no name yet (and therefore didn't know what to be called), and the collar we got her was a little too big for a 4.5 month old siberian husky. As soon as she got a whiff of nearby ground (which was the case when I put her little crate on the ground), when I opened the cage door to lead her out, she ran off.

Beth and I (moreso Beth) chased her around a bit, but she never went more than about a half-mile in any given direction from the yard. After giving up (and everyone involved getting quite filled with mud -- but the dog more so than either of us), we left out food and hoped she'd come back.

She stayed relatively close, but she was scared of us (new owners) and didn't know her name. A week passed of her coming in (generally around dark) to eat, and attempts to catch her failed. This is where the aforementioned 'pen/barricade' came into play. Beth, determined to have her dog nearby, set up this rigging of sorts with pretty much anything she could find to try and corral this dog. She finally did catch her one midday, which was a Good Thing.

However, after attaching her to the yard light pole (via a semi-lengthy chain), she quickly discovered that it wouldn't take long for her to get away again, this time without a collar.

Now, keep in mind that we live in a very rural area...and we've now got a dog we've paid for running around without a collar. Did I mention that this dog also looks (from a distance) like a small coyote or wolf? smile

Anyway, this called for a change in plans for capture.

She was now smart enough to understand the pen, so a different tactic would need to be implemented. She was also smart enough by now to run around the house and look for us in any of the downstairs windows. After a few days of scoping her out at night, she got even more clever and didn't come around until all the downstairs lights were off (for the night).

The thought of building a live trap for her or even going as far as tranquilization had come up.

I, on the other hand, decided it was time to use the pen to our benefit and try trapping her in the garage.

Now, some further explanation needs to be done here. When Beth caught the dog the first time, she used the pen to funnel her into the garage via the side door. So, while she was leary of the pen area, she was petrified of the garage.

The garage is not attatched to the house. There's about 20 feet between the house and the garage (enough for a vehicle to sit between them comfortably). The side door of the garage faces the house. There are several windows facing the garage.

So, we bought some rope.

The idea was to not put out much food at all for her, and to move her food into the garage (namely, the other side of the garage but clearly visible from the side door). This was accomplished the first night and treats were left out every few feet from the old location to the new.

The next morning, all food and treats were gone. She had taken the bait. smile

Instead of giving her more food through the day, however, we left the bowl empty and instead thawed out some cube steak in the house that day. The idea was that towards dusk we would go out and bait the trap. No regular dog food, but a real piece of uncooked meat...and again a few treats to line the path.

The treats actually play a significant role in this. You see, after being caught the first time, she would come into the pen area, take a treat, leave the pen, and eat it away from the 'danger zone.' In placing several treats in the area, we not only bought time, but also had the side effect of having George the cat on the watch. In the event we would not be right at the window, he (George) would most definitely be watching (he had at the time a fascination with this other creature living outside).

Now, for the rope. Since the dog was familiar with our activities downstairs, I took a rope and tied one end to the handle of the side door of the garage. I then left the [side] garage door open and parked outside (for both nights of this). The other end of the rope went through our bedroom window (upstairs) and was tied at a point with minimal slack to our bed.

So, the plan was that the dog would come into the pen, sequentially take treats and, presumably having smelled the meat in the garage, eventually make her way far enough into the garage where the door could close quickly and fully behind her, therefore trapping her in the garage.

Here again, to make a long story short, this worked like a charm.

After we caught her, we put her on a harness and while Beth prepared the 'cell' (we had her in the garage for the first few nights), I took her around and walked the perimeter with her. Much to my surprise, she was actually quite responsive to the action and, in the period of about 24-36 hours, has really come around. She knows who we are and gets excited when we come near (and actually she sometimes also approaches us). She still doesn't know her name, but that's in due time.

We've also started getting her used to being on the chain in the backyard when we're not available and for the bulk of her day. This has been going fairly well, which is also a good sign.

So, tonight's the first night we're going to leave her out all night on the chain. Based upon what I've seen so far, I don't think it'll be a problem.

So until next time...

...since supper is now ready, I'm calling it good for now!

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

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Miscellaneous Bits

  • One Gorgeous Daughter (Kirstin)
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  • Two Dogs (Koshka/Kurva)
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