Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009

Happy New Year!

Not a bad year overall. Pretty good, really.
Good: Got a new kitchen, got a regular date, work went okay, Prop 4 failed to pass, and the big one: Obama got elected president.

Cursed: Online book club blew up and is still reforming; Prop 8 got passed but has started more supportive activism; sleep is increasingly wonky but nose surgery might help, economy is tanking but it's the same everywhere and people are still buying cell phones.

Looking forward to: Better sleep resulting in better work and more time to spend doing things outside work including dating and maintaining friendships (that means you!). By the end of the year, I'd like to have plans in place and prep work done to start on a master's degree... in something or other. I'd like to have the major work finished on the condo - all floors and walls patched and repainted, all shelving where I need to have shelving, all plumbing sound and attractive, and all light fixtures where they need to be. I think if my space is settled, I can be more organized and productive. And have more time to post pictures to the blog.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?

Plague of Locusts

Soooo.....
The parents finally made it in last night, late. From Seattle. Don't ask unless you're loaded for cranky.

We picked up my brother this morning then stopped in Westwood for coffee, tea, and snacks before starting a driving tour of LA. While we were walking around, my brother did a double take and said, "Hey, I just ordered new scrubs from that store last week!". So we crossed the street to say, "hi" at Scrubs Unlimited and both mom and dad found some work shoes with good arches. We briefly drove thru UCLA then down Sunset Boulevard which is a fun winding drive past "star maps" signs. We detoured through the neighborhoods around Rodeo drive where the streets are named after Boston suburbs in order to see the iconic palm tree lined roads and fun architecture. We made it over to Gower to see the Hollywood sign too.

Nearer to the tar pits, we circled around a bit when I confused "Santa Monica Boulevard" with "Santa Monica Freeway" on my sketched map. Probably for the same reason I had problem with Russian. I stop listening (unconsciously) when I think I know what the remainder of a word or phrase will be and start thinking about where to go from there. In Russian, half the meaning is the ending tacked onto the root. The endings just never penetrated that well. So "freeway" vs. "blvd" took me a different map and a pull to the side of the road to sort out where I'd gone wrong - I was trying to stay north of "Santa Monica" when the pits are between the two.

But we made it, had another snack (a piece of multigrain bread dad picked up and put in the trunk), and wandered the grounds where we were nearly trampled by a tour group of 1800 people. Last time I went (and dragged Kvarko with me) we'd had maybe 18 people in our tour - and only one thought that people had planted fossils to lead us astray from God's true word.... Anyhow. I was able to give a reasonable outside tour of the excavations (and ossicles), showed them some pictures from Kvarko's visit (the wall of dire wolf skulls in particular), told them some fun facts (sabre toothed tigers had baby sabers with concave backs so their adult sabers could grow in behind them), and we decided that after a brief gift store visit that we didn't need to go in the museum after all.

One funny thing today. We were driving around and my brother swallowed wrong and started coughing. Mom sent up 3 homeopathic pills to fix coughs and the brother asked what was in them. Dad said, "eye of newt". Mom's answers were all "it helps your cough" or " it's supposed to", so he handed them back with a thanks but no thanks. Then mom went on to tell us how her coworker had a bad dentist visit and was all swollen up and purple in the face and she gave her the magic beans and - at this point my brother interrupted and said, "Poof, her cough was all gone!" Turns out there's some other pill she "routinely" carries and foists on people as of 2 or 3 weeks ago that is good for swollen up and purple, different from the cough one, but I laughed so hard I almost missed my home exit.

Where we walked over to Claim Jumper, vultured a table in the bar, and devoured about half the pub menu like a plague of locusts. (In our defense, the food was really good and a slice of bread with water is not a filling lunch.) For Years and Years mom tried to get us to eat slowly and savor. But all she gets for her troubles is my brother snagging her maraschino cherry, my dad sipping her drink, and me too far away to poach, but too busy inhaling my tri-tip dip slider and fried zucchini and kebabs and heffeweisen to really care. Even if we did get someone to bring us extra cherries and still I didn't get one.

Day One wound up with my brother helping me re-wire my media stand so that my DVD doesn't route in a way that oversaturates the screen so we could watch a movie. yay! I pulled out Love Actually on DVD. (I apparently left the tape "A wish for wings that work" in the VCR last Christmas and it was unhappy about that and broke in there.) Now, they are at the hotel down the street and I am blessedly alone again. Until early tomorrow and even earlier the next day.

So good points were that we were all in a good humor today, they made pleasing noises about the kitchen, we were not stuck on the freeway behind an overturned armored tank (but got to see them re-loading it onto a flatbed from the opposite direction), we found our parking place and bleacher seats for the parade, my DVD player works easily now, I know some cool things to take visitors to, and we laughed out loud.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Very Last Nerve

My parents are coming to town tomorrow and my brother a couple days later. The plan is to see the Rose Parade, which is my mom's favorite thing. But they're going to be here for 5 days. So they're staying at a hotel. We get along great over the phone but in person, rub each other a little raw. My brother was able to live with them as an adult on and off as his roommate situations ebbed and flowed, but my 5 months after graduation nearly killed us all. While I maintain that his having a bedroom in the basement and mine having one directly across the hall from them did have an influence in the social dynamic, we do not live together well.

And here I am, thinking I would have been in bed an hour ago so I can get up early (for me) tomorrow and kind of prep for them being here, but nope. I crashed on the couch and staggered up and, after finishing up some dishes from yesterday's late night cooking binge (I made bao from scratch starting at 11:30pm) then headed to the internets and *poof*, there went an hour.

The only thing that disturbed me from my websurfing (partly useful, I did find out that Craig Ferguson -mom's 2nd favorite thing on TV - does not have any shows taping while mom's here) was this zit on my upper lip. It was one of those subterranean (actually subdermal, I know) ones that you really can't even see but I knew it was there because it decided to grow directly over a nerve. It was only by prodding for the most painful spot that I was even able to find it. I know the pain isn't comparable, but it reminded me of my good friend whose 2 year old headbutted her nose on Christmas Eve and by all evaluations seems to have broken it. And it needs to be moved back into place to stop hurting and be straight again, but that will be really painful. Likewise, extracting this zit made my eyes water and my nose run, and me do a little dance. While it's still a little sore, I can now touch my lip without bursting out of my chair. Wasn't this supposed to be over 20 years ago? My joints now ache *and* I have acne? On the plus side, I can stay up all night cooking bao if I want to, with flavoring from my own liquor stash, and swipe bites from the rum cake.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everybody!

So I'd thought about hanging with the Jews and hitting up a movie and having Chinese food today. But I bought a lot of food yesterday to make some specific recipes and I cooked all day. Which is a little weird as I'm cooking for 1, but it's fun. I always want to make more food than anyone could possibly eat. I held back a little today, but if you add it to the vat of soup I made yesterday, my fridge is pretty full. The kitchen, it's working well, efficiency wise. Still have to figure out where some final things go (mostly the small appliances) but overall? Waaaaay better. And it smells good with the mulling spices warming on the stove.

I made a lamb stew type thing which came out too pasty to look good for a picture. But it was tasty enough to eat, so whew! I also cooked up artichokes and peeled a pomegranate so it was a Greek kind of meal. I do wonder why pomegranates were one of the earliest cultivars though. Yes, it stores well - it can last for weeks or months, maintains the juiciness of the seeds, and one rotten seed rarely affects many others. But dang are they a PITA to peel. I do wonder how Pom does it industrially for juicing.

I also made my favorite cranberry relish and just finished rolling out some egg noodles. It's a recipe I made up myself. Typical recipe is 1c flour, 1 egg, 1T water and 1t oil with a pinch of salt. I use 1c flour, 1 egg, 1T low sodium soy sauce and 1t oil - although this time I also ground up some dried mushrooms in a coffee grinder and added an extra t of water with the powdered shrooms. They're drying right now. Usually I don't have the patience to wait for them to dry, but I'm pretty full. (I had to test out the Corn Pops I bought for mom's breakfast...)

Tomorrow, I need to get out of the condo though. I'm meeting up with a friend at some point, and I want to go to the beach because it's California and I can, even if it's still pretty wet and chilly. I could use a good 3 hour walk, too. Hope you had a fun day hanging with family and don't need too many gin and tonics to recover from said family.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Road Trip

Hey all, I'm home from San Fran. Unlike my Alaskan friend who got snowed in at SEA-TAC on her way back. I have re-purpled hair, I'm getting my voice back after cable car caroling, and I've slept like the dead for about 2 days. Today's my last day of work before some extensive time off. (To me, 12 days is extensive. One day, I will take a month or 2 off. Really. Just not now.)

My parents and brother are coming out for New Years and dad called saying they did get seats for the Rose Parade, which is just about my mom's favorite thing evah. Here's hoping that our weather gets a little nicer all over the country in the next week.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Irish Weather

It's 45F and dreary and drizzly here. Since when does SoCal get Irish weather? It's warmer in San Francisco! Sheesh!

But I have a place I can make all the hot chocolate I want. Because I have a baking drawer full of chocolate. And a mostly done, new kitchen. I still want to post stills for before/after/chaos but I couldn't help myself and took another tour. I'm not sure if I point down because I'm enthralled with my lower cabinets, having lived with the uppers for a while now, or if I just naturally point down. I tried to narrate a little this time. We'll see if that worked.

Well, it's been 3 hours since it started uploading. Hrm. I guess if you're watching this, it worked.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Will You Won't You?

I tried to find something in my purse tonight and failed. I tried to find something at Lowe's and they've discontinued it. However, they do have a sink that would suit me better (with one center hole and 1 dishwasher air-gap hole on the side and a half inch shallower) than the one I just bought and installed and way more options on faucets than they had even 2 weeks ago. So I'm going to try and replace my sink. I'll do the plumbing myself, thank you very much.

In the meantime, I spent about 2 hours sorting through all my home improvement receipts and paperwork and everything in my purse, and my other recent purse that didn't get completely unloaded. It was a disaster. Now it is better. I don't know why I put off organizing so long when it makes me so relieved to have it done. It must be regulated by the same section of my brain that motivates exercise.

What's been pushed out during my kitchen reno aside from paper sorting: I've waffled for weeks about going up to San Fran for a long weekend this weekend.

Pro: I get to hang with some fun friends.
Con: I'm already getting 2 weeks off starting next wednesday and this is extra vaca days.
Pro: but I don't have plans until the new year (family coming for Rose parade - dad, did you get the tickets yet or should I?) so it would feel really crummy to spend the holiday alone when the opportunity to hang with people is *so close*
Con: I have crucial experiments going on at work with results coming in this week
Pro: I might not be able to do the followup experiments anyway as we don't like to muck up the equipment just before holidays if we're expecting any production to get through on the last day or two.
Con: Too late to buy really cheap flights
Pro: Gas prices have sunk to 1998 levels so I can drive it for less than a hundred dollars
Con: I'm feeling a tad ill, so I'm hoping it doesn't become full blown sickly
Pro: I have sudafed and tylenol.
Con: I didn't want to ask for the time off at the last minute and I thought I'd glimpsed someone's name on the common calendar asking for the time off so I wasn't sure I'd get it.
Pro: Turns out that was my name on the calendar, from months ago, saying "tentative". So my boss was expecting it and I don't have to get all weird about asking 2 days in advance.

Conclusion? I'm going to San Fran. I'll be driving up thursday morning because I just can't get everything done in time to leave wednesday night. I have to mail some christmas gifts, get some charity gifts, pack, unpack all my glass supplies from the back of the car (taking out 50 pounds of stuff helps gas mileage), and... post pictures of the kitchen. Although, I might just do a lot of that during my christmas downtime.

new countertops with sink

This is the sink I want to replace and move the faucet to the new bathroom sink. There are now doors and such on the cabinets, and it looks great but you'll have to take my word for it until I can upload the newer pictures. Probably not before SanFran tho. Sorry, folks!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cookie Party

Yay! Cookie Party happened. Cabinet boy deserves HUGE thanks. He came over this morning to help me CLEAN. Can you believe it? I need ideas for thanks (massage is on the list). But thanks to his help the project got done, and the place was clean and clear enough to have people over for foodmaking. We really worked well together, I think. We only got a little snippy once in a while, but wow. Seriously, I'll post some pictures once my head stops spinning.

Just wanted to let y'all know that it came together in time. After powering through a 5# bag of flour and 3# of butter and a container of sugar, I now have these kinds of cookies:
  • sugar cookies rolled in decorative colored bits
  • Chocolate Hotties - triple chocolate with chili powder
  • chocodoodles
  • coconut macaroons
  • cranberry-cherry-pistachio biscotti
  • chocolate chip
  • oatmeal cranberry pecan
  • oatmeal butterscotch
  • persimmon
I'm going to make them into gift bags for coworkers and the countertop guys. And eat some. And put away the mixing bowls in the corner cabinet with the lazy susan, instead of on the open shelf where they had previously been exiled due to no adequate space.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I Can Has Countertops

I'll post the gritty details in the next post. I'm impatiently waiting for the pictures to upload to photobucket.

This is what the countertops look like as the installer is packing up. I'm happy. So far 2 people have walked in and said "nice granite counters!" and yet they're laminate so I can drop stuff on them and not break my (likely handmade) stuff.

S from New Door Knobs suggested a video to get a better sense of the space. So here you are. Me and the jitters and the new countertops. Wilsonart "Milano Quartz". Joy!
video

Monday, December 8, 2008

Template, Check

Whew! The countertop templater came out and didn't raise a fuss about anything. Only asked about the filler next to the dishwasher and I said I'd put something in. Which I will, but it was not on the critical path for templating. We discussed the counter layback - we're going with my idea and I'm excited about it. It doesn't have to get done before the party so if I can't figure it on friday night or saturday morning before the faucet goes in, faucet rejiggering will be the only extra work needed.

It did cost an extra $150 to have him come out twice. But I didn't know enough about countertop manufacture to know what could or couldn't be done before. I think it was worth it because having him there for the rough draft allowed the final version to be better. I also asked for clarification on why he suggested I cut out notches from the top supports for the sink cabinet. I showed him the clips and mentioned how they bend into place. Then he pointed out that you still tighten them with a screwdriver and the notches are for the scredriver, not the clips. All is now clear. It will be done.

The bar will seat 3 comfortably and look good too. It's 13" deep which is what the previous bar was. I liked it well enough without the edge that stuck into my walkway and narrowed it to 2.3 feet. That and the grotty grout was bad too. And the old (meaning damaged and grungy) epoxy painted wood edges, blech. I'll have a 3' opening below the counter edges and 3' less 2" at the counter height. There's heapo plenty room to move the fridge out or other appliances should that ever be necessary. And someone in a wheelchair could get in and out. Might not be able to reach the sink, but that can be retrofit, right?

Lastly, the small pony wall wraparound was a little warped (2"x3"s were inherently funky even after cherry picking) but I managed, in the half hour between getting home and the templater showing up, to re-settle it with a shim so it's level and straight. Was a lot faster and easier than I expected it to be and now I don't have to worry about it, like I do the rest of these things.

Punch list before countertops:
  • Figure out the filler between corner cabinet and dishwasher and install it squared and leveled.
  • Make sure the electrical conduit is secured in place.
  • Figure out endcap of small pony wall (probably not drywall).
  • See if there's a fire retardant, thin something I can use inside the small pony wall next to the dishwasher (optional).
  • Add drywall, patch, texturize, prime.
  • Check one last time that the devil counter between the stove and fridge is square and level.
  • Locate and cut out notches on sink base cabinet.
  • Cut out hole(s) for dishwasher water lines and prime around them.
  • Install plates for affixing the top front panels of the sink cabinet.
Punch list post countertops:
  • Attach new drains and faucet to kitchen sink. See about new rubber gasket for garbage disposal.
  • Install kitchen sink with source and drain hookup.
  • Attach garbage disposal and dishwasher.
  • Attach doors to all lower cabinets and pantry.
  • Cut, adhere and grout floor tile.
  • Paint drywall of pony wall.
  • Install toe-kicks
  • Install edging around exposed edges of cabinets that aren't perfectly flush.
  • Confirm all upper cabinets are level.
  • Figure out the range hood.
  • Prime upper wall behind the stove. Rearrange pot hooks.
  • Put all my stuff where it now goes. Because it has a place!
  • Vacuum, wipe, and scrub drywall dust off of everything I own.
So. Friday. I'll have countertops. For the record, or if you're browsing your local store and want to check a swatch/chip, I'm going with Wilsonart's Milano Quartz with a minimally textured finish 4726-52. Runners up were Sandy Topaz, Milano Amber, and the orange DeepStar Mineral (which I figured was too taste specific, but if the first 4 were unavailable, I'd have used it). Milano Quartz laminate. It'll be grand.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gazelle Stacking Boxes

A friend of mine once watched me perform some task involving moving stuff around. His assessment was "You are graceful as a gazelle... stacking boxes" with the obvious point that gazelles are not particularly graceful at stacking boxes. If there's a way to carry something that involves bumping into every possible wall, scraping every corner and damaging the face? I'll find a way. Any instruction that says "protect using method A or "just be careful", I must choose method A or prepare to live with damage. I will never be able to be an appliance installer with this defect. Do not let me carry ladders. Cabinet boy, though, he's really good. Meticulous and careful - with the exception of one angled stud that will never be seen again without a teardown - and he can navigate through chaos with damageable parts no worse for wear. I'm impressed.

I've been dark this whole weekend working all out with cabinet boy to get the cabinets installed with meticulous detail. It was all I could do to get him to let me order a pizza by way of a break. At some point with insufficient water and food I become useless. I hit that point at 4 yesterday but we didn't quit until 5. Today, we thought we just had a little bit to do, but worked 10am-10pm. Yikes. About 3 hours of that was spent trying to figure out my corner cabinet. It faces out to the dining room and we had to install it then measure to recut the pony wall. And it had to be level with cabinets it was 3" away from. I got to the point where I barely cared if it was level or flush at some point and ordered the pizza.

But we got it done and knocked out the concrete anchors and pony wall in, comparatively, no time flat. It looks really nice. Moving the entrance over a foot does make it slightly more awkward to turn on the light. I anticipated that. But everything else is all good. I thought it might feel smaller, but it actually feels bigger because you don't walk in with the fridge right in your face, but off to the side. Because the fridge is so bulky, it really takes up a lot of physical and visual space. Coming in to the side of it makes it visually smaller in the same space. I did not anticipate that, but I like it. Also, the way I'm re-doing the shorter wall, it'll be easier to watch TV while I chop stuff up.

For the cookie party, it will allow 3 or 4 distinct places for people to be inside the kitchen,
  1. baking at the stove,
  2. stirring at the right wall by the pantry
  3. stirring at the pony wall over the dishwasher
  4. washing stuff at the sink.
which is one more spot than last year.
Also someone can be grabbing things from the pantry and someone else can sneak by into the kitchen. Handy. I'll still have the bar too, which can seat three, and I'll pull out the table which can handle four. It's going to be really, really nice. Yay!

Countertop guy comes tomorrow to template for the final fit. I've decided to go with mostly cove (integrated) backsplashes for easy cleanup and I prefer them for laminate. Under the bar, it will be a separated backsplash because they can't make the coved one full height. I've got an idea for the window layback. It'll work, but whether or not it works well is the question. It might involve being careful, which means I should get someone else to do the execution.

Pictures to come. Most of them are of the total mess my dining/living room is. But too sleepy to cope with them now. Must go back to work to pay for countertops.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Prop 8 the Musical

There has to be a reason I like Jack Black (I want my stretchy pants! is funny) and can't stand Will Ferrel (I'm a moron elf is not funny). Making cool stuff like this might be one reason. Also check out Allison Janney, Neil Patrick Harris, the lady who plays Becky on Scrubs, and several others. About 3 minutes of singing and dancing.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Long Lunches

I'm needing to work extra late several days this week because I took a long lunch to order counters yesterday. A long lunch for counter measurment and allergy shots today. Then tomorrow I have a followup with the ENT to discuss surgery on the schnoz innards and thursday I *might* have a test at the urologist if the insurance gets straightened out. It'll be interesting.

In the meantime, I got some answers from the countertop guy. I have to raise my cabinets up a half inch for my window cutout. The countertops will be 1.5" thick. I'll go with the double rounded front (not the ogee) because they have to subcontract the ogee but do the double round themselves. This saves me about $300 in finishing costs, so I'm not super broken up about not taking my first choice. This finish edge will be totally fine.

However, he needs to come back to template the place after the counters are actually installed. This may be an additional cost, but it'll come out of the edge savings so whatever. I basically need to have the kitchen in final form by sunday night. He's coming back monday. If there's anything still left to do by then, I won't get my countertops, but I should be ok. He was confident that his company honors their timetables. Whew! And I have that decision made about the bar-stud-pony-wall placement and even sleeping on it, it feels like the right decision. Whew!

Still and all, I hope cookies are good for ulcers because I think I'm going to have one before this is over!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Panic at the Disco

I need to have a kitchen sink before my party on the 14th.
I need to have countertops before I can install a sink.
My dratted countertops are a custom order, not off the shelf, so I can't just pick them up, slap them down, and be done with it this coming weekend. As it is, the scheduled install is the 12th.
In order for the countertop order to be finalized, they have to measure.
They want all the countertops in place and level and secured before measuring.
In order for the final cabinet to be set in place, I need to rebuild the pony wall.
Um. That won't happen by tomorrow noon, when measurement guy shows up.

AAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

Here's hoping that he can measure based on what I have got in place and apply standard countertop making allowances to get everything right. I think I've got it set up in a way that they can tweak it or leave some fudge space for the final day and still be alright.

So. I forced the date to come over and help figure stuff out even though he'd had a bad day. I'm more decisive if I can talk things over with people. And he was working or camping this weekend and didn't come over when it wouldn't have been panic inducing. Plus, he's a morning person and I haven't had enough sleep so I hope the decisions we made today (move the pony wall out the width of a 2x4, aka 3.5") are sound. They feel right, though, and I take that as a good sign.

Now to stop spinning so I can sleep. I'll try not to think about the "full wrap ogee" edge vs the "double roundover" edge. I think I want the ogee - it looks good on stone but I'm getting laminate and that might look a tad queer - as the roundover is more boring but still tolerable. Both wrap the laminate to the underside of the counter. I hate rough edges under my counter that absorb water. Dumb, dumb, dumb. On the other hand, I was worried that they don't sell the color I want, but it turns out they're out of swatches because it's one of the most popular colors, not because it's discontinued, so it's not a super-special order. Then, do I want a 12", 13" or 15" bar width? I'm thinking 13, but don't want to do something so weird it'll delay my order when I can live without that for the time being.

Contingency plans for countertops failing to materialize next friday: (1) buy off the shelf counters for about $50 and install them temporarily, (2) see if another friend can host. I think I'll call her about the backup hosting just in case, but - fingers crossed - it looks like the counters will go in on friday. Assuming I rebuild the pony wall, move the electric, remove the tile edges out from under 3 legs from 2 cabinets so I can get the level set, and install the pantry in the next 10 days. Which I can, but dang. It means I have to be done with things and that's not really my forte. If I can't get the sink (and dishwasher) hooked up and leak free, the plumbers can come on saturday. In the meantime, I have to start stashing or trashing all my stuff that's just laying about everywhere I turn. Driving me crazy. And I don't need more of that.

If you don't get your christmas card before St. Patty's day, this is why. I might get the patio lights up by then too.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Drainage

Sink now drains and drain does not leak. Will still need to be replaced shortly, but until then, I can brush my teeth and wash my hands and dishes. Joy!

Friday, November 28, 2008

I need Joe the Plumber

Well, not the famous one who's not actually a plumber, or Joe for that matter, but the metaphorical Joe. There is a Joe the Plumber about 10 miles away and according to the updates on his website, his business and notariety have picked up tremendously. I hope he keeps the momentum, given that he is actually a licensed plumber and sounds like a nice guy.

Currently I have no kitchen sink, so I've been using the bathroom sink. The bathroom sink has clogged up semi-regularly since I moved in, but hot water and a draino type treatment have done the trick - that, or the neighbors getting their drain unclogged made my lines run better. This sink clogged up today and for the first time will not get unclogged. (No I have not dumped anything larger than remnant tea leaf flakes into it.) So I took the drain apart. The bit that I've been told is the AC drain which branches into my drain was clogged full of orange, sandy goo. My suspicion is that whatever this crud is, it is leaking into my drain and clogging it with sand. Which Draino doesn't touch. The clog has to be further than 12" into my drain which is as far as I can reach. (Don't get me started on how useless plumbers snakes are.)

woeful under sink plumbing

Now I need a plumber to fix it. I'm not sure if the plumber is also the person to fix the AC drain - I need to stop the crud from getting in there or the problem will repeat. I'm hoping I can just get the drain unclogged for now, though, and here's why:
I have a new sink to replace my cruddy looking, non-level, stained on.
I have a new faucet to replace my cruddy looking, backwards hooked up, rust flaking, leaking one.
I have a new drain stem to replace the one that leaks.
I have a new drain segment to replace the one that clogs, although it may be unnecessary.
I have a new vanity cabinet to replace the one that is water damaged and ugly with glued on knobs. However, the new vanity cabinet is not assembled, and I don't want it to get water damaged either while this whole mess gets figured out.

There's a little irony going on as my new dishwasher arrived just this morning and my primary complaint is that I can't wash dishes. Rather I don't really want to wash them in the tub even though it got a good cloroxing just yesterday.

So, I've looked up plumbers on line and sent an email to the date asking for a recommendation. We'll see what kind of response I get. As the toilet and tub still work, we're only at semi-emergency status. But I don't want to get ready for work without a sink. That's what camping is for.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mapquest v Google Maps

I've been a Mapquest user for years. But I'm being converted to the extra freaky Google Maps because I can search for something nearby where I want to wind up, then actually find my destination on the map, *mark it* and get directions to the more precise location. I'm not saying Mapquest won't allow this, but I was unable to stumble across how to do it.

I got directions to my friend's parents' house out in the desert. It feels like it takes 6 years to drive there, but really, it's about 90 minutes. Go to the glass studio, head north another 7 miles, then exit through the mountain passes and go another 40 miles. Turn right off the freeway, make a left after the Lowes, and then a right. Couldn't be simpler. But the addresses in Lancaster are bizarre. Street K, Avenue Q, and whatnot then subdivide these into M-12 and N-13. Mapquest didn't want to help me figure out the specifics.

Turns out I Google-mapped the address last Christmas because it was still in my memory cache. I hit a wrong button because the computer is responding slowly today, and the street view popped up. Yep. That's their minivan, in their front driveway. So I checked out the view, looking for points of interest. (There are none in Lancaster from what I can tell.) Then it took me stepwise backward through the directions with the street view. When I got a couple turns back, I clicked down the road view until I found the Lowes. Then I checked for visual cues near the freeway exit. Cool tool. Powerful. Frightening.

I'm one of those people who believes that guns don't kill people, people with guns kill people. Every useful tool, and some less useful things, can be used for good or ill, and likely as a weapon. Every time I'm searched for knives before boarding a plane I think about how long it takes to twist my free can of soda in two to get two jagged cutting blades. Or how one could mess with someone's vision shooting shaken soda at them. Or how one could use a shoelace or bra strap as a garrote. And I wonder anew at why they bother searching for pocketknives.

There's a weird mentality about useful tools. Some tools are clearly so overwhelmingly dangerous in the hands of the average user that they must be restricted for the common good. Some require training but have wide adoption, like automobiles. There are other tools which are commonly seen or used as weapons, but for which there are innumerable functional uses, which are much less dangerous than cars, but which are banned for air travel, like pocket knives. I carry one intermittently because they're danged useful, but I don't want to lose it at the airport. Yet pocket knives are relatively safe in terms of how easy it is for the average user to seriously hurt someone with it. If you have someone who is deft with personal injury via pocketknife, they probably don't need the pocketknife. By that point the restriction is useless, so really it's just taking a useful tool out of responsible hands.

Which brings me to safety strategy.

For the average person, it's enough to deter crimes of opportunity. Your neighborhood can dictate which opportunities are most likely. Some neighborhoods are generally safe enough to leave doors and windows open most of the time. In some this can be done part of the time. Some are actively dangerous at any time. One adapts to the local threat level. For me, I lock car doors and windows (also keeps out spiders), lock my condo doors and windows, and try to be alert when walking somewhere alone. That's pretty much enough. Reasonable measures against low threat means unlikely to be a crime victim. Not impossible, but unlikely.

But if someone is targeting me or you specifically, it's extremely hard to provide sufficient protection against the threats. This is why we have the Secret Service providing multi-person round the clock details on each of their clients. It's not enough to lock the doors, one must also rent the hotel rooms above and below, clear out local airspace, use dummy cars, bulletproof glass... and still there are large risks. One of the bravest things I ever seen someone do? Obama standing in front of crowds of a hundred thousand people, out there in front of God and everybody, before the election, and speaking. Seriously. A hundred thousand people can love him, but one crackpot can ruin everything.

Why am I going here just before thanksgiving? Because Google Maps is one of those nebulous, frightening things which my search just reminded me. I'm sure 98% of people use it for good. Probably more. They probably don't think it's dangerous just as they don't consider their car to be the deadly weapon that it is. I fear what this does in the hands of someone who really has it in for you. And the Air Force base that was so easy to spot on the map last year is hush-hush this year, so the google folk are cluing in too. Still and all, it's harder than ever to hide.

Fortunately, most of us don't need to hide and don't have people coming after us. I want to keep living in a world where that is true. I believe that cooperation is more likely to lead to long term survival than power struggles. I also believe that more information in the hands of many is generally safer than less information or restriction on information. But it's hard to reconcile this belief with the creepiness of a street level into my friends' window.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fun Stuff

Playing around on the web today, I found fun stuff.

  • All kinds of crafty links which inspired me to add the sidebar "Artsy Fartsy".

  • Someone has spent quality time reconstructing the history of plate tectonics. In Pictures even.

  • Search images by color, for instance lots of orange and a little green. I can't figure out how to do a picture capture to post. My fav freeware or a PC is faststone capture, but I don't think it works on Macs. Then I'd have to save it somewhere, upload it, then post it. And I'm too busy playing with it to bother.
In case I don't update soon, I'll be driving to the back of beyond (aka over the mountains and through the char to my friend's mother's house I go) for Thanksgiving. Next year, I'm hoping to have the shindig at my place. But until then, Cheers! And Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

You Breathe That?

I went into the Valley today to blow some glass. Lots of glass. I had an ornament commission to fill. And it would be a slam dunk but for my oddly low yield. I kept getting some spiral fractures from the top of the ornaments while putting hooks on. In a normal day when I make, say 35 ornaments, I might completely bungle at most 2 or 3 and have a similar number of odd looking seconds. Today, I completely destroyed 9 ornaments and had about 7 "seconds". Of about 50. Which means I doubled my scrap rate. Nuts!

I'm going to go medieval and blame the bad air. Normally when I drive into the Valley, I can see all the way to the mountains on the other side of Burbank. Today, I could barely see to the next exit. It's been quite a few days since the fires got put out, but the air is still filled with ash. It was almost possible to look directly at the sun due to the filtering effects. It looks nasty and grey with a sickly yellow tinge. It reminded me of my old bedroom carpet. Or what I imagine London in the days of coal heating to look like. Yuck.

Fortunately, my air seems pretty clean in comparison. And I work in a HEPA filtered cleanroom for part of the day. But there is ash "dust" on my patio and stoop. I wonder if it's blowing over from the Valley.

I've been watching (and by that, I mean listening to while doing other stuff like blogging) lots of TV programs about the history of Earth and related science. Whenever someone says "oh, volcanic eruptions can disrupt crops somewhere else" I can say, "well, maybe, but it wouldn't be *that* bad, would it?" Yes, I know about the year with no summer after Krakatoa or a similar volcano blew. I know that intellectually. Kind of how I know I have too much stuff but don't really believe I have too much. It's different when you see it. And it wasn't until I noticed the halo around the sun that it really clicked.

I think I was slow to believe because I've never lived anywhere that air got trapped before. In Boston, I lived within 2 miles of the ocean and 2 hours from mountains. In Minnesota, the wind picks up speed across Alberta and North Dakota before sheering across, so it's got some good momentum going. It does not stick around. Here in the LA area, it's alarming to see the air on some days. One day I drove over the 405 into LA and there was a distinct line where the air was clear on top and greenish underneath. Bleah. My little valley has a good air flow down to the ocean, thankfully keeping it pretty clean.

Now I get it. Yep. A big impact crater can throw a lot more crud into the air than a coupla bad fires. A really bad volcano can block out the sun too. Thousands of volcanoes would be tough to take. There seem to be a lot of scientists pointing out that there were lots of volcanoes when the "great dying" of 250 million years ago and the dinosaur wipe out of 65 million years ago. And I just learned why - andipodal effects. Remember how the tsunami of a couple years ago was triggered by an earthquake? Similarly, a big meteor impact can cause vulcanism on the opposite side of the globe.

It appears that the 250myo event had a roughly 7 mile diameter meteor impact which caused most of Siberia to get covered in sympathetic lava. Something like that is bound to wreak a little havoc. In this case 99% of life on earth died off and dinosaurs rose from the rubble. I don't know which volcanoes triggered for the 65myo dinosaur di-eoff event, but it was likely a 6 mile diameter meteor so presumable there were some. I'm starting to think there's something to that volcano theory after all.

I'd also never gotten a good explanation for "hot spots" that create things like Hawaii, until just now - antipodal effects of impacts causing weak spots and compressions on the opposite side of the globe. This works for me. It makes a lot of sense. And seeing Hawaii's hot spot is still going strong, so it makes more sense to me now that volcanoes so coincidentally timed would continue to spew effluvia for enough years to really stick it to everyone. So... what was opposite the start of Hawaii's island chain? It makes me want to print out a large map from google maps and piece the continents back together. Well, I want to do that anyway.

And I also wonder, does an impact that large change the earth's orbital position relative to the sun at all? Even a mm? I should do the calculations... Could it change the rate of rotation or the angle of tilt? Because that would also mess up the existing life forms. I wonder also, when Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter, did anything spew out from an antipode? We got the good view of the impact, so we wouldn't have seen the back. Or does gas not transmit the shock as well as water or solids? Or was it just too small for Jupiter to notice?

Anyhow, the air was dirty today.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Carpet 'n Stuff

Here's what my room looks like with new carpet and some of the stuff out of the way.

carpet with bed and stuff replaced

Here's the old (top) and new (bottom). If you notice something that looks like a patched hole in the old carpet, that's because it's a patched hole.
old greyish beige carpet with hole
new hazelnut carpet with pattern but no hole

They're not terrifically different, but I'm very pleased with the new carpet. The difference is that the old carpet was in really bad shape. It was dingy, matted, patched, and from the view of the bottom, stained from numerous incidents. The new carpet is more orangey dunn than mossy grey. Just for kicks, here's the sample on the old stuff.
carpet sample on top of old showing color difference

Now for the technical details. Here's ripping out the old carpet. The image is dark, but does show several patches on the door side, probably where a previous owners dog liked to dig. They told me the carpet was not the original. I don't know how old it was but it was pretty gross. I'd always planned to replace it, but after putting all my stuff on it, the idea got overwhelming. But there are good sales in these trying times.
old carpet getting ripped up

This is how the installers bundled the carpet remains for removal. They created a knot by slicing a 2-3" strip of half the width, slicing 2 parallel lines in the roll, and twisting the strip through the resulting loop. Pretty handy. They kept their knives sharp.
two carpet rolls with knots

The carpet pad is an upgrade partly because I requested it and partly because this particular short-nap carpet seems to call for it. It's much cushier.
carpet pad being kicked over concrete floor

Then the carpet gets laid out and rough cut to size. They replaced the threshold tack strips but reused the remainder. They lay out the carpet like this, bang it onto the tack strips on one side, then put the spreader in. They stretch the carpet across the room and bang the opposite side onto the tacks. Then they do the other direction. Finally, they do a final trim on the edge and tuck the ends downward.
carpet before being tacked down

I highly recommend having professionals do this task. It took them longer than I rather thought it would but they did a nice job including sweeping up before and vacuuming afterward. And moving all my stuff...


Starting here, ALL of this stuff got taken out. And all the stuff under the bed, which is designed to allow a lot of storage.
clothing racks in bedroom

Some got put in the in-progress kitchen
aerobed and dresser drawers and pants in kitchen

and the rest on the patio.
patio full of stuff with purple bedframe front and center

Someone walking up the staircase to the upper 2 units would have this view of my patio totally packed with stuff. It's mostly cleared back out again, but not entirely. And I took 4 purses and my old mauve suitcases out to the recycling and left them with another box labeled "free purses". If no one picks it up I'll go grab it and donate it somewhere. It still works, but I haven't used it more than once in the last 10 years. Very little other stuff left though. Yikes.
looking down on patio full of stuff

I'm making a standing offer of temporary SoCal accommodations for anyone who is good at organizing and editing stuff.

Reno Binge

I mentioned I was getting new carpet in the bedroom, right? While gutting my kitchen and sitting on the supplies to replace my bathroom sink and vanity. Yep. The bedroom is my only carpeted room; the rest is tile or Pergo-like wood-like floor. They guys are here right now and literally the only place I can sit down is at the computer. I've been hovering over them, seeing how it's done.

I'd had some notion that the carpet stretcher went all the way to the edge of the wall and the tack strips and somehow attached the carpet to the strips of nail points. Not so. They stretch the carpet from edge to edge, but the spreader stops a half foot shy of the other edge and they just bang the carpet onto the tack strips with a hammer, or in this case, the back edge of a dull hatchet. Or the front edge in corners. And trim with utility knives. The edge at the threshold is done by taking a blunt chisel and cramming the carpet egdge between the tile and tack strip.

One reason I didn't do this earlier is that my bedroom is packed with stuff. The store said they moved furniture so I signed up. They technically don't move boxes of stuff, but they did today... My bed is designed to be a storage unit, and there are boxes aplenty underneath, plus I had a half dozen other boxes of stuff. And 4 shelving racks of clothes, a dresser, and 2 end tables. They'll put the bed back and the furniture, and hopefully the furniture racks. I tipped them $20 already. It's a hard enough job without being movers too.

I'm always amazed at how fast someone who is dispassionate about my stuff can move it. They date unloaded the kitchen cabinets in the time it took me to shower. It would have taken me 3 days. Now the trick is putting everything back. One problem is that I don't want to put everything back just as it was because it was not working for me. But I can't leave it on the patio! I swept and washed the patio last weekend and this weekend it's even dirtier - all sorts of ash dust in addition to the usual sand colored dust. Ah well. I'll post some pictures. The piles of stuff are kind of horrific.

My neighbors are currently moving out (bummer) and are in the process of just getting that last little bit of stuff, which takes as long as the first 95%. The movers in Boston call that the "chowder". Or rather, the "chowda". They've let the carpet guys use their parking space so they don't have to walk far. We've been having discussions on how to get rid of stuff. She gave away a complete set of JD Robb books to a battered women's shelter fundraiser just before I moved in. I think once I have a good storage system for seasonal decorations and scrapbooking/art stuff, it will work better. And I have to part with sweaters. I did wear some last year, but really, I don't need a full set anymore. I know this but...

So I'm sitting here, with my view totally blocked by the giant pile o crap from my bedroom. Knowing intellectually that stuff needs to go, but able to think of good, or at least marginal, "reasons" why I need to keep it all. No wonder the top real estate market in growth mode is storage units.

Oh, and I bought a new dishwasher last night. Not to worry, I will not be keeping the old one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lint and Copayments

Does everyone else get bathrooms completely coated in a layer of towel lint or is it just me? I have a shower and toilet in one tiny room and I'm digging it mostly because it contains the lint. Last weekend, I cloroxed the toilet. Today, it was coated with purple fuzz, visible from a distance. It's like I had shedding pets.

Also today, I saw the urologist. I have just not been right since my last UTI. She seems competent and there are tests that can be done that will likely be a little unpleasant, but which will answer some questions. The trick is paying for it.

It's not clear whether or not the doc's on my insurance plan, although I checked and they think she is (call confirmation #28000). But the office is not convinced. The deal is that in CA, Blue Cross and Blue Shield are two competitive companies but I have, for reasons that are mostly insane, BCBS of Massachusetts. I formerly had Harvard Pilgrim HMO and they were wonderful. Now I have this PPO because the one HMO option I have is more restrictive and not cheaper. And I have a fundamental dislike of a primary care physician who has even less time to coordinate my care than I do. Unless it's significantly cheaper or less hassle for me to work that way. Given my two lousy options, the BCBS PPO is better. By which I mean sucks less.

I think one good way to reduce medical costs is to not require 3 staff members per office just to deal with insurance issues and related paperwork. It's not in any way a value added position. It exists only to make sure the doctors get paid. These people generally help me, but my point is that they shouldn't have to.

See, if I could just pay out of pocket and only have insurance for catastrophic costs like surgery, or recurrent therapies, I'd do it. But if I don't have insurance, an office visit is $400. If I do have insurance, they are only "allowed" to charge me $78.56. Then I only have to pay the copayment. How is it that if I'm uninsured I'd get socked with $400 but being insured gets me in for 20% of the charged cost? I would understand a 20% reduction, but 80% tells me that there is institutionalized graft and fraud abounding. Not that it's called that when it's legal, but damn, there's something fundamentally flawed there.

I do believe doctors should be paid. And they currently need to get paid a lot to cover the costs of (our broken) schooling system and still afford to eat. Then they get the loans out of the way and their incomes are wildly disproportionate to the rest of the economy. Some people choose medicine for this reason. Doctors have traditionally been one of the elite professions. And I'm not saying doctors should be earning assembly line wages. But my ENT yesterday pointed out his BMW in the parking lot and told me all about the trip he took to Europe to buy it from the factory. Thanks, Jackass. Here's my check for a tenth of my monthly disposable income. What do people with worse paying jobs do? It's fearful. I hope he's a good surgeon and worth the spiffy car.

As it is, my copayments are going up 50% next year (from $20 to $30). Which doesn't sound horrible either, except that I'm going once a week to the allergist. So that's $120/month. While my allergy shots should decrease in frequency, and I might not be out $1440/year to be less sneezy, and I might be able to find a generic BCP to keep my costs to $200/year if I go back on that to fix my skin (although it could be as much as $600). I still need the allergy nose spray, and any other thing that comes up. Like my podiatry ($90 for an antifungal cream that wasn't covered, $500 for orthotics that as yet don't fit right) dermatology, sleep study, cat scan... don't forget the acupunture, chiropractic, and massage for my tight tendons. And now a set of tests for my urinary tract and possibly surgery to remove my tonsils and expand my nasal passages. So I'm not going for the eye surgery next year. I'll aim for 2010.

How can one tightly wound sneezy and sleepy but otherwise extremely healthy person chalk up this much money in health fees? I just don't get it. It's like that lint in my bathroom, just accumulates in little bits here and there until I'm overcome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kitchen Wellness

I took a "wellness day" from work today and cabinet boy came over and helped me build some more cabinets and rip out most of the old ones. We're leaving the 4'x1' pantry up until the bitter end, but the rest of the old kitchen including the counter top grout is out out out!

Hopefully he does come back tomorrow to help with modifications to the bar height pony wall.

Here's what my lower kitchen cabinets looked like. The rug in the middle is the sample of my new bedroom carpet, color "hazelnut". It will abut the same color tile at the door to my bedroom
beige kitchen cabinets with floor tile and carpets

After we unloaded the cabinets into the living room, it became packed to the gills with stuff. I can still only sit in the purple chair, which is where I am now. I did find the TV remote, thankfully.
living room full of crap

It left the kitchen cabinets looking like this, Notice the too-small spaces in the corner to the right and the lack of space at all on the left.
kitchen cabinets with drawers removed

At which point we could take a look at what's really going on under the sink. Yoipes! Looks like we can find the leaky bits now. There's a disposal, a dishwasher feed, drain, and vent, hot and cold taps and two sink drains. Plus electricity. Joy.
jumble of plumbing under the sink

Fortunately, we can turn off the electricity. Anyone who ever saw the total of 2, count 'em 2, 15 Amp fuses then circuit breakers of my last 2 apartments knows how thrilled I am to command this much juice. See how I've sensibly turned off the ones labeled "Garbage Disposal" and "Dishwasher".
Electrical box with 2 circuit breakers flipped off

We found it was easier to remove the cabinets from underneath the counter than to try and take the counter off. Don't look at my chub, but do pay attention to the look of manic glee that I'm taking out the worn out enamel sink and dreaded tile.
countertop being lifted by moi with no cabinets underneath

In the meantime, we took this stack of flat pack boxes
kitchen cabinets before assembly

And turned them into this stack of assembled carcasses and loose parts
white kitchen cabinets looking boxy

Which are now waiting for their chance to go in this space
empty kitchen wall with pipes and floating dishwasher.

I've managed to almost totally coat my hands and spots of other parts of me with KILZ primer. I had to spray the sink area with bleach to kill the mold, then go get mold resistant primer. They never did prime behind the cabinets and the texture coating is absorbent without it. At this point, I've got the wall primed (except where we took out the tile border, still not sure what to do there) as well as the raw back edges of the sink and neighboring cabinets.

Kudos to the date for working REALLY hard on this, taking care not to muss up neighboring cabinets, appliances, or anything else. And for helping haul out trash! Which did fit in the dumpster, so I think it's allowed.

It looks like the cabinets will fit, but leveling and securing is the next challenge. Well, after shortening the bar wall so I can take out the 1' deep pantry and replace it with a 2' deep counter and pantry. Then I can call in the countertop experts to come cap off the pretty new kitchen.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I was blown away by Casino Royale. I was fairly well entertained by Quantum of Solace. Pretty good for what is essentially a revenge movie. In other words, better than Bourne II. Not as good as Casino Royale. Still a decent flick. I enjoyed it. If you either like Bond generally, or the Daniel Craig Bond in particular, go ahead and see it.

Here's the definition of "quantum" from dictionary.com that I think best fits the use in the title.
    (physics) the smallest discrete quantity of some physical property that a system can possess (according to quantum theory)
Which to me means the smallest possible amount of solace that can be gained. This is not a spoiler, unless you've never seen a revenge movie before.

Right from the start, Casino Royale's chases were compelling and the intro graphics were clever. Quantum of Solace had an improbable and drawn out chase scene and uninspired intro graphics. The reason CR's first chase scene - though longer - felt more acceptable was that it was unique and fun. QoS's first chase scene was shot so close up, through close quarters, that it was mostly out of focus blur. (The reason I have not re-watched Bourne III despite liking the plot better than Bourne II - annoying camera shots.) Once the combat started it was impossible to tell who was who. While I think it was intentional, it made me tune out. There was the stop action right at the end of the scene that Daniel Craig did really well. But up to there, there was nothing to focus on. The intro graphics were female shapes. I've got no problem with that, it's a nod to classic Bond, but it was boring. And worse, not clever.

The movie got a bit better, but they kept shooting action and chase scenes too close so that it wasn't possible to see what was going on. This seems to be a trend in action movies. I'll take it over massive destruction for no good reason, but I'd prefer to see what is going on. Then, they kept putting Bond in large, rickety transports and having him go up against nimble, modern transports and outmaneuver them. A little bit Bond, but silly more than anything. Less believable than usual really.

Also, someone (still not positive who) kept planting evidence against Bond (the CIA?). At some point M went from skeptical of him to back to believing in Bond, but I never did figure out why. If you see the movie and figure it out, let me know. And the CIA guys mostly confused me. It felt like they cut out or just plain didn't write a couple of necessary scenes to keep the audience in the loop. Mysterious is one thing, unfathomable another.

So with all that blah, why would you see it? Daniel Craig does a really fine job even with a lackluster script. His female foil, who probably has a name, keeps him on his toes because she's not on anyone's side but her own, and she's (mostly) competent and interesting. They take some fine potshots at the state of the American economy and influence. And there's some character growth that winds through the story.

All in all, it sounds like I didn't like it. I did. I liked it. But I didn't love it. Still sold on Daniel Craig as Bond. He looks just strange in still photos, but in motion he's all that.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Honk for Love

For a couple of hours this afternoon, I joined in the "viral" equality gathering in the next town up from mine. We were near the library on a main road. It turned out to be a fantastic spot because there was constant, slow traffic. Due to the wildfires about 30 miles to either side, all the middle area traffic was coming down right next to us.

I joined with about a dozen other people and was probably the oldest by 10 years or more until a local couple my age walked over and joined us. Apparently they started with a couple dozen and it dwindled toward 1 when I got there. It was supposed to run from 10:30am to 3pm. I left at 3 and more people had shown up so it was still going strong. Check the Daily Dish link in my sidebar for views of other groups around the country doing the same thing.

One thing you don't realize if you're not here about the Santa Ana winds that whip up the fires is that they are dry and hot. Not just a pleasant warm breeze, but scorching like an oven hot. Unlike most people on this November day, we had full sun, blue skies and 90F weather. It was windy enough to rip signs out of hands, so most people started getting cramped hands as their worst side effect. And we cheered loudly at any fire trucks heading out. Because they were going into hot on top of hot. We were lucky - no fire, hot enough to make people roll down their car windows, and someone brought some flats of water to drink.

It was really interesting to see the wide variety of people and cars. And very hard to predict who would show support. We'd get waves of honkers, then waves of sourpusses. Some minivans packed to the gills with an extended family would honk wildly and some would drive by stonefaced. Lots of black people honked. Some really old people in 10 gallon hats gave us a wave and a honk. Some really old people in 10 gallon hats did not. Some semis with nice loud horns joined in the action - more than I was expecting - and some did not. One guy on a bright orange motorcycle stopped to say how exasperated he was that 8 passed. Considering how long all these people had been sitting in traffic to get where they were going, which can make people extra cranky, even the naysayers were pretty reserved.

So this wasn't a huge event like some others, but it was local and I think we probably saw more people than most due to the traffic re-routing. And we got lots of people to honk for love. All in all a net positive, I think.

I've been reading a lot about why there wasn't this level of activism before prop 8, and florida's prop 2 and the others. There are many theories. Mine is that people figured that this was California, of course it wouldn't pass. And we were close, but not entirely correct about that. I don't think we were prepared for the level of swiftboating we got. Another theory/observation is that most gay folks learn to stay in the background to avoid trouble, until a big event happens that makes it worth coming out and yelling about. There are straight people who assumed that voting their support would be enough.

Whatever the reasons, people are out and about NOW. If you're wondering why we're out and about after the election it's because we now know that our quiet support isn't going to work. And the movement needs more people and more visibility. It won't help today, but maybe it'll help tomorrow. I've heard there'll be a gathering in Sacramento at the state capitol next Saturday. It's a little out of my reach to get there, but look into it if it's not out of yours. Another little thing to do is sign the petition to repeal prop 8. Couldn't hurt, might help.

Honk for Love, y'all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

YouTube Generation

Now includes my dad. He's taking classes at the local Technical College (formerly the VoTech) in Nanotechnology "so he can talk to me".

And here he is talking to other people at some event they held.


I think the term "adorkable" is apt.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Flip This Law

I've been reading for a while, in between election updates, about this funky child abandonment law in Nebraska. "Safe Haven" laws exist because not every woman who gets pregnant wants a baby. And not every pregnant woman is able to choose whether or not to not stay pregnant. The result is that some fraction women have babies and either kill them or leave them to die shortly after birth.

Many states, and countries for that matter, have found it saves lives to allow women who have recently given birth but don't want to keep their kids to be able to abandon them safely at hospitals or police stations without fear that they will be tracked down and made to pay or otherwise care for the child they want no part of, nor arrested for not caring for their child they can't or don't want to care for.

Most of these laws specify a time limit of something like 3 days or a couple weeks. I think that's a little short because what about the people who change their minds at birth when they see their child, then try to live with it and realize their first instincts were right. We couldn't extend this up to a year? Or longer? Well, Nebraska did. Apparently it was unintentional that their law allows for the abandonment of children up to 18 years old. Because people have been taking them up on their offer for kids as old as 17 and according the the news, the lawmakers are freaking out.

Nebraska's reaction is to say, "NOooooooo! that's not what we meannnnnnt. Don't do thaaaaaat, people! We meant babies. Only helpless babies, not the annoying older kids that are hard to place." Their plan appears to be to revise the law to specify infants only.

But every time I think about it, the fact that parents of mostly grown kids are desperate enough to risk giving up all rights on their kids in perpetuity makes me wonder what kind of options there are for families in need. Because the fact of people using the law means there's need. So instead of knee-jerking to take away this law that people are finding useful, can we not look at WHY people are doing this? I haven't had any conversations, yet, with my social services friends - there has been other stuff in the air - so I don't know what social service professionals think here.

But what I think is that clearly some parents need options. I work with machines more than people, so I don't know what the alternatives are. But if someone is worried that their partly or mostly grown child would be better off somewhere else, with someone else, rather than in their care, what options are there to address this? Can you drive up to social services and say:
  • I can't afford to have my kids anymore.
  • I'm worried that I'll hurt my kids if they stay with me.
  • My spouse died and I cannot cope with the kids.
  • My child's teen years are driving me to drink.
  • I'm worried for my life because my teen is out of control.
and just leave your kids with someone neutral and safe?

Maybe some people figure their kids are old enough to know how to find their way back later, if they drop them off in Nebraska now. Maybe they're depressed, unemployed, or ready to smack. Maybe they're just done and honestly don't want the kids. Maybe they seriously need a vacation. Maybe they don't know about other options. But if people are driving to Nebraska to drop their kids somewhere safe, then there is need to either help parents cope, or take over the care of kids people no longer want or can care for. And if there is need, someone needs to step in - if we honestly believe that all people have a right to live once born.

So instead of, or in addition to, Nebraska rolling back their law to cover only newborns, can there not also be some terrific publicity of what the options are for older kids at risk? In every state? Because I honestly don't know if there are any. And clearly other people don't know either because they're driving to Nebraska to turn over their non-newborn kids where they can't fear reprisal. And I find it odd that the first reaction reported by the news is that somehow this useful law is flawed and should be rescinded when it is clearly meeting a need.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vroom, Vroom!

Today started out on the wrong foot. I couldn't, for the life of me, get to sleep last night. This is not my usual sleep problem unless I have caffeine after lunch, which was not the case. I think my mind was whirling with board politics and reports of personal grievances and people making stands. I remember seeing the clock turn 6:00AM and thinking, "uh oh". I woke up when my alarms turned off. Eit. Then my test runs on my tool were wonky. But it got better.

Three good things today:
  • My first ever blog poll is working! (Go vote at the end of the last post. No, I'm not adding the link, it's right after this.) I'm no more decided than I ever was, but I have a new blog toy. And some ideas on how to decide.
  • Someone at work organized a night out at the new kart racing track down the street. A dozen of us went round and round in our electric karts, which were zippy and more responsive and less stinky than the gas motor carts I liked in Boston.
    I did pretty well for my first time at the track, finishing in the middle of my heat. In my second and final set of laps, I tried some other techniques with the brakes and spun out 4 times. Whoops! But I figured some stuff out so I have a chance of doing better next time (they have lunch laps :) and whoa, are my forearms tense now.
  • Mythbusters were blowing things up on TV and South Park is mocking HSM. Finally.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Eyes, My Eyes!

This title feels like a reference from somewhere, but it could be more ubiquitous or obscure than I could easily nail down with google. While I didn't get a hit that resonated with me a to source, google did send me to this fantastic link of Simpsons done as Anime which I consider a good omen.

I've got 10 more days to make the final decision on getting laser eye surgery this coming January or to put it off for a year. (Or, forever.) If your attention span is short, skip the following and take the poll at the end of the post. If your attention span can last, here's all the stuff rattling around in my head on the topic.

I checked it out. I was worried about the "reading glasses" thing that hits later. But it turns out to be the difference between reading glasses and bi- or trifocals, not glasses and no glasses. Simplistically, vision is controlled by the shape of the corneal lens and the eye muscles that change the shape of the eyeball to adjust the fine focus on the retina of the light coming through that lens. (Then the brain takes the signals from the retina and does all kinds of image processing.) The thing that laser surgery corrects is the lens shape. Glasses or contacts adjust the incoming light so that the wonky lens shape gets tailored light it can then resolve.

I've got a friend who has "cheaters" that work well for her. These are hard contacts you wear overnight that reshape your cornea. The work they do is not permanent which is a good and bad thing about them. I think this is a really interesting idea. But my goal is to have fewer daily maintenance tasks, and I'd like to wake up and be able to see - I think it makes a difference in my ability to be alert in the morning. So wearing contacts overnight is more work than I want to introduce to my bedtime and morning routine.

There's a laser surgery place in Beverly Hills that does work on celebrities and non-celebrites. I figure someone who makes their living correcting the vision of people who stand to lose multi-million dollar contracts if their eyesight goes wonky has to be pretty careful and a great track record. I've got an appointment there in January. They are expensive, but not out of line. It's a flat fee that covers everything including potential adjustments in the future. The places that say $300 per eye don't necessarily include follow up care and some say that worse vision will cost more. I don't want to go bargain basement with my eyes. I'd rather overpay then risk my vision.

The trick is that while I think $5000 is "reasonable" for the service, I still need to come up with $5K. I use the medical spending reimbursement account which has a $5K limit. This means I get the $5K tax free if I use it to fund the surgery, so it actually costs closer to $3300 of money I would see. My out of pocket medical expenses this year are nearing $2000 which I find astonishing because on the whole I'm really healthy. But I have allergies and chasing "non-restorative sleep" causes and symptom treatment is like throwing money down a black hole.

In the election brouhaha, I did some research and it turns out my salary is in the top 20% of salaries nationwide. But I live in one of the top 10 most expensive places in the country. My top 20% salary after 12 professional working years, 10 years of student loans, saving what I can, and the dot com bust back in the day meant I could buy one of the 10 cheapest condos in my county which was originally built as low income housing. Which is to say my disposable income isn't even close to being in the top 20%. I don't have kids and other such obligations, I can eat out at lunch (although that budget has been cut too), and I can afford gas and some treats. But living high on the hog I am not.

My job, for the most part, seems stable (go wireless!) although I have no illusions of big raises in this economy. I kept some money set aside to renovate the condo a bit and I'm chewing through that at pretty good clip. I'm running into deficit spending this year, so I'm actually using some of the savings for regular stuff as well. I got a pretty large income tax return last year, but I don't know if that was due to special circumstances (part of my relocation was costed out last year, and part the year before) since I'm new mortgage payments and their effect on taxes. If all goes well, the income tax return would cover most of the eye surgery.

If all doesn't go well, the income tax return might not exist or might cover only a fraction of the cost. And my cash reserves are not extensive. Currently they about cover my non-mortgage debt which I have not paid off so as to maintain a cash reserve on what used to be the outside chance that credit would not be easily available as I'm used to. These last thousand paragraphs can be summed up as if I get this surgery, I will be at risk of running out of money to the point where I will seriously have to cut back on food. Maybe.

On the "get the surgery now" side of the contract is I can get the reimbursement almost immediately so I won't be without the money right away, it's just that my paycheck will go down by a couple hundred dollars. Everyone I've talked to said it was the best thing they ever spent their money on and they'd do it again in a heartbeat and sooner than they did. Right now, I'm a very good candidate for the surgery and I should have a decade or more of glasses free living (although I do like my Kate Spades). I really think it will affect my ability to focus in the morning. If I go bust, they can't take my eyes back.

On the "delay a year" side is that I already have new glasses and a year's worth of contacts so I shouldn't incur more expenses on that front for a year. I don't know how my medical expenses will shake out. If I have to shell out another $2K next year in addition to the $5K for my eyes, I don't know where that money will come from. I don't know how the economy will treat my paltry remaining few non-retirement investment dollars outside the cash/money market condo/emergency fund which are down almost 50% from last year and what I had thought to use on the surgery but didn't move to a money market and now it's hardly worth cashing them out. I don't have any family backup money. I won't starve, but I won't be able to do anything fun either, if the tax refund is off or anything else unexpected comes up.

I've assessed it before. While I like to think I take risks, I don't really. I have a low risk tolerance for my basic needs. Once I have enough money to meet my basic needs, I have lots of risk tolerance because I don't care about money for its own sake or power or anything. This also means I tend not to put myself out to build up reserves once I'm comfortable. Which makes me a bad candidate for commission sales - that's my brother's thing.

I have to decide in the next 10 days or so whether to set aside $2K for medical expenses next year or $5K. And I'm completely torn. One part of me thinks, "just do it and worry about paying for it later, like college, it's a quality of life investment." The other side of me thinks that $5K is a lot of money in these trying times that could be better utilized as a mattress pad until signs become clearer. Or I get a better raise.

What's the opinion from out in blogland?

Love

Go Keith O.

Also available on YouTube

You can hear his voice wobble. The same way my fingers wobble when I type about prop 8.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Best Behavior

Ok, I'm going to try to get back on my best behavior and take the high road. Learn and teach by example, all that stuff. We'll see how that goes.

I was heartened this morning to hear a relevant quote on, of all things, Trucks! on the Spike channel, which was tuned in for the Bond marathon.
    It ain't messed up 'til you can't fix it anymore.
One thing that is messed up is that we are voting on people's rights. I'm still trying to wrap my head around how that's ok. But I think most of us honestly thought that prop 8 would have little traction in CA. Maybe this is the kick in the pants that will really get acceptance, not just tolerance, rolling.

In the meantime, it'll be interesting to see who Obama picks for his staff. (Blogger spell-check still doesn't recognize Obama, weird.) I still wish that the candidates could float ideas for cabinet posts before the election, although that might involve taking their eye off of the job of getting elected and flirt with currying favor.

It's odd not to have the book board to go to though. I usually keep three tabs open - my email, my blog (from which I link to other blogs), and the board. I'm feeling a little rudderless. So I'm going to hop offline, get some groceries, and build some kitchen cabinets and finalize a carpet selection for my bedroom. [update: color "hazelnut", edged out "beige allure" or any type of green.]

Fortunately, I moved my renovation savings money from stocks to a money market, and have executed on my stock option plan - when they vest and are above water, sell half of them that week and sock the money away - and Friday got a much needed bonus at work (yay wireless!). I kinda ran out of money in my checking account this month, so the bonus is well timed. I'm definitely needing the savings to pay out on the cabinets, which even though they are relatively cheap IKEA ones, cost more than my monthly income can cover. But I have to complete renovations and not leave them half done or my condo will be worth even less than it otherwise would. And I want to live with the upgrades, not just do them right before selling (you know, in 10 years when the market recovers).

It turns out buying things like appliances and carpets is cheaper in a down market - I stopped by a local store this weekend and found some good carpet that comes with upgraded pad, installation, furniture moving, and no sales tax. As my existing bedroom carpet has stains and patched holes in it, I knew I needed to replace it, and this deal works out for me as well as supports a local business. I am feeling jittery on the finances, but our CEO seems to think the business is sound for the next little while. And the savings account isn't bottoming out, but I'm not funding a Roth and I'm not sure whether or not to go for the eye surgery in January either.

Now I'm just typing to type, I think. Need the board back to get the excess blather out so I can stay more focused here. One last tangent though, today's the 90th anniversary of the end of WWI. Here's to never having WWIII.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Suck It

Judging by the title alone, this isn't a happiness post, it's a cranky post. If you want something more lighthearted, skip over here.

A fair amount of my social life is conducted over the internet. The primary conduit being an online book club. The format's a scrolling bulletin board sponsored by my favorite author Suz Brockmann. Suz has a son who is gay. She stated many times that laws discriminating against or actions taken to marginalize gay people hurt her and hurt her family. And that any opinion was allowed as long as it wasn't hate speech or spreading slanderous lies. After prop 8 passed, one of her readers (who has been a little snotty in the past) came on and said essentially "bless your heart but for your own good I proudly voted yes on 8".

Then a brouhaha ensued. As of this evening, the board has been shut down.

I admit to being part of the brouhaha. I am afraid I disagreed and was disagreeable about it. Despite President-Elect Obama's implicit exhortations that we all be on our best behavior, I said outright that I had utter contempt for anyone (and her specifically) who would come to a site sponsored by a gay advocate to gloat that the law making the sponsor's family less equal in the law had passed with her glad help. At this moment, I'm not sorry. It got me thinking again of the injustice of voting on rights at all, ever. And on how to live as one people with those who dismisses you and yours as faulty and incapable of deciding your own best interests. More on that in later entries.

Oddly, most of the brouhaha was whether or not we had to be tolerant of this hateful bigot. *Before* prop 8 passed, she came on and floated some "reasons" to vote for 8. All of them but "I don't think it's right" were provably false, and we said so. She was polite and floated the arguments which was useful, actually, to get the word out. But *after* it passed she came back with the same old crap. And seriously, her kid will learn about gay people regardless. Why is that harmful again? Why can't she be tolerant of someone who is wired differently? Tolerance isn't even acceptance really. Can people just not understand that other people are different from them?

We've come so far in the last few generations. Not just more equality for women and people of color (not equal equality yet, but making progress). But also more acceptance of people who are odd for some reason and used to be hidden away. I've always wondered if my great-great-aunt Ana didn't get married because she had a giant burn on her face from a spilled coffee in childhood. My mom remembers her fondly as a lovely woman. Yet I knew someone in ROTC with a disfiguring port wine stain over more than half her face who had a normal life - joined the air force, married after college, and was just normal. I saw someone with cerebral palsy, or something similar, lurching down the street with two friends at lunchtime, just today. There were several kids across this country who won Homecoming King and Queen in legitimate elections - only noteworthy because they have Downs Syndrome. Yet they were integrated as much as possible into the classrooms and their schoolmates liked them. Not just tolerated, but accepted, made friends with, and liked. And it still feels astonishing, but then I think about that and realize that it shouldn't be astonishing, although we should keep celebrating these achievements. (I almost wrote "victories" but that implies a loser, and this fight for equality isn't about making other people lose. Except maybe losing a venue.)

Even a generation or so ago, it was astonishing to see women in pants. It was astonishing to see the handicapped out and about in public. It was astonishing to see mixed race couples. It was astonishing for women to buy their own homes. None of these things are astonishing anymore (not to me, anyway) because a lot of us are trying hard to see people for who they are inside. Yes, what's on the outside informs your life in many ways. But physically beautiful people who are carrying a streak of mean or evil become much less attractive when you get to know them. And people with weird warts who win Ms. Congeniality awards become so attractive, the warts no longer come to your attention. It has always confounded me that if you teach people to love the person on the inside that you'd then be surprised if they fall in love with someone whose outside doesn't meet your expectation.

I can't seem to figure out how to explain why I don't have to be tolerant of hateful bigots who TAKE ACTION against me and mine. I don't care if you're smiling when you stab me; if you stab me it cancels out any amount of polite. You can express your opinion. But you can't expect me not to pick it apart when it's wrong or based on lies. Correction is not intolerance. Well, it's intolerance of ignorance, but how is that bad? But if you list "reasons" for your intolerance that are provably false yet still choose to repeat those reasons as truth, then you become a liar. And you need to stop spreading your lies my way because I will keep correcting you until I'm blue in the face. I'm not opposed to all lying, necessarily. It helps make the world go 'round. (I'm just not good at it.) But I am opposed to spreading lies that deliberately hurt people. And I don't think I need to be tolerant of that. And I'm having trouble letting it go.

    "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - MLK


The board may or may not come back on line. I'm not sure how it will go if it does. Ms. Nastypants and a couple trolls have been banished and good riddance. But I started finding that I was skipping more posts than I read when I used to read almost everything. I used to like almost all the posters and recently I've started not just avoiding, but actively disliking more posters than usual. In trying not to offend, people have stuck on brittle smiles and tried to play nice, but that misses the point. I think I was most upset for not being able to have a big board celebration for Obama winning because there was a sense that we didn't want to rub the noses of the McCain voters in it. Again, it felt more like achievement than victory (although Victory comes into play for me also). I wanted that celebration with my friends and when I felt it wasn't going to happen, I felt as disconnected from the board as I ever have. Which is really too bad. I miss it already.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Turn Turn Turn

My feelings have been crashing between elation with the Obama election and being aghast about prop 8. I think I need to focus more energy on the elation for a while. Charge the hope batteries for tomorrow.

But I've got some poison in my system that I don't want to fester. I'm not feeling at all reasonable toward people who would vote to end their neighbor's marriage. Contempt comes closer. I think what happened was that people saw it on the ballot, thought, "This is CA, that'll get defeated, people can do stuff like that here." And didn't ever imagine it would be a fight. And by the time we realized we had to do something, the swiftboating was in full swing. Although exactly why it's horrifying for your kid to learn in school that other families aren't exactly like his I'll never know. I think I'm in the start of the generation for whom that just doesn't compute. Intellectually I know that changing existing opinions on this subject is terribly difficult. But I'm not terribly patient with injustice.

Since I've wondered over the last few days if Obama would have gotten elected if Kerry had won and thought perhaps not, then wondered if I would trade the last 4 years for Obama (don't know yet, give me another 4 years) this blog entry calms me a bit. Because at this moment in time, if I must, I will trade a setback which ultimately fires people up for civil rights, for Obama in the White House. Because I think we can do more ultimate good for civil rights at home and abroad with Obama in the White house than we could have done with McCain. But still, I would prefer not to lose battles to win wars.

I had a discussion with someone at work today who admitted to being a little appalled that black people voted for Obama 97% of the time because it would mean no small number voted for him for being black. I'm not sure if this person was more appalled that it was necessary or that it happened. But I started thinking about it. When put in the perspective of how the world outside the US would likely have voted going for Obama going for him closer somewhere between 4 or 8 to 1 (80-88%) and our "youth" vote going 2 for 1 (66%) to Obama, and international Economist's online readers going 9115/203 (98%); 97% is not so far out of line when you're voting against the figurehead of the establishment. 97% in this selection is from -1% to 31% off commensurate opinion, but most likely only 10 or 15% higher than people who haven't grown to think that white fundamentalist christianists must vote republican. And that's more affirmative action than reverse racism. Now, if this was the 3rd black president we were electing, this person might have a point. But it takes a special push to break the glass ceiling. I'm appalled that the ceiling is still there. (See previous paragraph.) But I also understand the need to weight in favor of minorities until people get so used to the differences that they stop being dividing lines. You don't become comfortable with people you never encounter.

To continue the celebration, we have efforts large

obama portrait drawn in sand on Spanish beach

and small. Really, really small. (This one's for you, dad!)
Nanobama!
Obama image in nanotubes

And because I can't resist:
One happy family in front of crowds with actual family values

My hope is that actions will continue to speak louder than words and prop 8 will be overturned.