Thursday, March 31, 2005

Wow, cool

Saw this site that shows some pretty cool structures built using pennies, all without glue. Thought it was worth sharing. From

Monday, March 28, 2005

Dinner party

I felt like having a dinner party, so last Friday night I invited a couple of coworkers and their wives over for dinner and made a fancy dinner. Coq au vin (pronounced like cocoa van), which translates as "rooster in wine", but I used chicken breasts since the grocery store doesn't sell rooster. :-)

To complement the chicken I had an appetizer of potato skins loaded, a salad of mixed greens, and the sides for dinner were whole grain rice, noodles, and fresh green beans. For desert I made vanilla bean (with a real vanilla bean) ice cream (which I had to start the night before and churn Friday morning) and bought some strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Top it off with whip cream (out of can -- I didn't have that much time!) and desert was definitely enjoyed by everyone.

Everyone loved it, and I'm pretty sure they weren't just being nice (I ate it too, and we all know how picky an eater I am!). If only I had a real dining room table we wouldn't have had to stand around the kitchen counter eating.

I'm hoping to do another dinner party again in a couple of weeks for a different set of friends, but I have to figure out some other dish to make to keep things interesting (at least for me).

Changing tires

Yesterday I swapped off my Focus' snow tires and put on its high-performance "summer-only" tires. I hope that wasn't premature, though this week is supposed to be consistently in the 60's, and if there is any precipitation, it should be in the form of rain. Hopefully Spring has fully sprung and there won't be much, if any, more snow.

Getting the tires off wasn't nearly as easy as I would have expected, however. The iron rotors had corroded, and while they hadn't corroded to the aluminum wheels, they had enlarged themselves to the point where the wheels were stuck on the hubs. I officially don't like salt.

I was able to get the front wheels off by a few (dozen) swift kicks to the lower part of the wheel, but the rears were stubborn and refused to budge. I kicked and kicked and got nothing. I got a board and a hammer and beat the wheel through the flat side of the board, and still nothing. I switched to the narrow end of the board and beat the wheel some more. It didn't budge but I did scrape the clear coat on the wheel.

Frustrated and thinking that I wouldn't be able to figure out a way of applying sufficient force without mangling the wheel, I got desperate. And desperate times call for desperate measures. I decided to lower the car back onto the wheels, without any lug nuts on the wheel lugs, hoping that the weight of the car would pop the wheels loose (and not send them flying and the car crashing down). A calculated risk, but I figured I had the variables under control.

I kept the jack under the car (jacking up both rear wheels at the same time -- there's a lovely brace back there that I imagine would be replaced by a rear differential if I had the euro-spec AWD turbo Focus) and lowered the car to the point where there was probably just a few hundred pounds on each wheel. I then kicked the wheels some more and was able to get them to pop off (though one was still quite stubborn).

I brushed off the bulk of the corrosion on the hubs and put the new wheels on, though I imagine that I should have used some sort of scouring pad to really clean the hubs. I think that means I need a new air tool! :-)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Too funny

Yesterday from I found this video about a police officer giving a talk to kids in an urban school about how dangerous guns are. As he says that he is the only person in the room professional enough to handle a gun, he shoots himself in the foot. It gets even better after that, but I won't spoil it for you. Definitely worth the download.

Friday, March 18, 2005

St. Pat's

Yesterday was St. Patrick's day, as most of you probably know. I've never been into the festival party nights thing before, but figured it would be worth it to get out to St. Paul because it's a big Irish town. Who knows, I might actually have fun!

The threat of 6 inches of snow had me a little worried, but it turns out that it was unfounded. I got home about 1am and it still hadn't even clouded up yet.

The evening started slowly and ended slowly, but the middle was quite entertaining. I met a coworker's wife in St. Paul, at the Starbucks she manages. She was to be my "wing woman", kinda like a wingman, but less hostile to the ladies you're trying to talk to, or so the theory goes. We had some beers and waited for another coworker to arrive so we could go to O'Gara's, where the real action was likely to be.

O'Gara's was packed, and the overflow was in the giant tent they had set up in their parking lot. We picked up some beers in the tent, I got a O'Gara's T-shirt to cover my basic geek work attire, and then we waited in line for ten minutes to get into the pub.

There was a two person band, playing rather badly, that we listened to for a couple of songs while scoping out the crowd. There were a number of lovely ladies standing/sitting around, but it was still early in the night. I was too sober, and they didn't have on the right prescription beer goggles yet.

After a couple of beers, we made our way back to the now very crowded bar and ordered another round. Behind us were two lovely 22-year olds waiting to get another beer as well. My coworker turned to them and said "Hi. This is Mark. You should talk to him." and just like that, I turned beet red.

A couple of awkward moments, a few questions of the form "Why should I talk to Mark?", some hasty replies and the conversation was rolling. They both had boyfriends (well, one was engaged), but were otherwise quite pleasant to talk to. They were intelligent and able to maintain their side of the conversation. That's the best I could have asked for, given the circumstances, and the general level inebriation, so I was happy.

Tonight I go back to O'Gara's see a good band play, and maybe I'll take advantages of lessons learned...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Fun stuff

Here are a few links I've collected over the past few days that might be worth sharing... Most of these are from

If you are ever in an accident with little old ladies, remember this... A big audio download, but reasonably funny.

Microsoft sues the wrong college student... Now they can't back out of their lawsuit because he's counter sued. Funny.

Linus Torvalds uses a Mac! Well, it's running Linux, but still, it's a Mac.

A clone of the Apple Shuffle, the Super Shuffle looks interesting, and actually like something I might think of buying. Let's hope they don't get sued out of existance. Didn't Apple loose that whole "look and feel" thing anyway?

TiVo gets some much needed business. I still like ReplayTV better, but wish they had a DirecTV native box, the lack of which will probably drive me back to TiVo sometime soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Ego Boost

Today I got an ego boost from an unlikely source, my previous employer. I got a call from a group saying that my name was at the top of a short list of people that they would like to interview to be a lead engineer for their next great "killer" product.

I'm flattered by the offer, and I'm thinking I'd like to know more about the situation, but ultimately, I think that the things that caused me to leave California for Minnesota, will keep me in Minnesota. I'm reminded that traffic is way better here, housing prices are reasonable, and we have a full set of seasons, among other intangibles.

I'm also reminded, more importantly, that my new company is offering me the opportunity to control the creation of a new line hardware devices, and the software drivers that go with them (for Mac and Windows even!). While these products probably won't ever have the name recognition of what my previous company is offering, they aren't going to ruin my life with stress either. And I think that's the really important part.

Well, I'm going to think about it some more, but I don't think that will change my opinion -- but it's definitely food for thought.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


This weekend I decided that I really want carpet in the basement; it currently has just a concrete floor. However, in order to put in carpet, you need to have the walls finished, and to finish the walls, you need to put in everything in the walls that you're going to want. Which brings me to the electrical.

The basement has two rooms, on is big, close to 800 square feet in the main room (there's also a mostly finished bedroom down there that I'm using as a workout room), so there is a lot of electrical work to do. You need an outlet at least every 6' around the walls.

On Saturday I installed 13 electrical boxes, ran the wires between all of them to create three separate circuits, and installed 10 outlets. I should have bought 13 outlets, but I wasn't thinking. I'll get those when I get the breakers that I need to complete the circuits.

Monday night I attacked the wall between the basement and the garage, where the main panel is. Once again, the 52" drill bit went where it wasn't supposed to, though this time it came flying out of the wall at me and I nearly drilled my shin. Second try was the charm and I was able to get into the basement without a problem. I ran the feed lines for two of the circuits and called it a night.

Tuesday was a long day at work, but when I came home I had the energy to run the last feed line into the garage. I was expecting this line to be a pain, since the holes through walls were getting crowded, but I was relieved to find that it all went smoothly.

A few more hold-downs to hammer in, and all that's left to do is wire the feed lines into their respective first outlets and the main panel, and I'm done.

Next on the list is figuring out where to put in lights (I'm thinking wall sconces and cove lighting), and where I want to put in walls (I need at least one partial wall to be able to hang one of the surround sound speakers). I'm sure something else will come up along the way too, but for now, things are looking good.

Not bad for a few day's work.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Last night, late last night, I was able to finish the replumbing of the soaker tub to using 1/2" O.D. (outside diameter) lines. Turns out it was using 3/8" lines and not the 1/4" I had speculated about, only because soft copper is measured by outside diameter, not inside diameter. Whatever, they were too damn small and the plumber should have known that.

The day before I had turned off the water to the house and soldered 1/2" threaded nipples onto both the hot and cold lines. And I did a damn fine job for my first pipe soldering, if I do say so myself. I put the new 1/2" valves on and turned the water supply back on. That was all I could do that night until I could get the forgotten parts from Home Depot.

After making the requisite second trip to Home Depot to get the parts I had forgotten the day before, I was ready to go. I soldered the (forgotten) unions onto the new flexible copper pipe and everything looked good. I was getting excited that this whole thing might be done in just a few minutes.

Boy was I wrong. After three hours of struggling to get the two unions soldered onto the faucet inlets, and one more trip to Home Depot to get more solder though, I was rewarded with a rushing faucet.

The faucet can now fill the tub faster than the drain can drain it, so it's definitely worth it. I'll have to time how long it takes to fill the tub now, but I suspect it's in the sub-ten minute range now, which makes sense since I basically doubled the pipe size.

I don't know what I did wrong in the soldering of the unions to the valves, though I suspect that it's because I didn't get enough heat evenly around the copper valve stems. Since I was on my back, trying not to burn myself on hot lines, or melt the fiberglass tub's resin, or set the surrounding wood frame on fire, my angles of attach with the blowtorch were severely limited. This meant that I kept getting pinhole leaks in certain spots, and the more I tried to get solder there, the worse things got. Eventually I took everything apart, cleaned everything again, applied lots more flux, bent the valve stems to a more vertical orientation, and was able to get stuff air tight.

I'm still a bit worried about the joins blowing out though, so I've left a bucket under them. :-)

Monday, March 07, 2005

Uh oh

So this morning I came into work, and as I was telling my coworkers about my new tankless water heater that I just got working, a coworker came up and said that over the weekend, he had helped a friend install a new tankless water heater.

I didn't mind the one-ups-manship, but when he said that they didn't use the required Class III vent pipe, instead opting for the easy to find Class B double wall venting, and that instead of running a separate flue for the heater, he common vented it in with the furnace, I got indignant about his "damn the directions" attitude.

I asked if that was code, if he had read the directions, and if that was what they said to do. He replied "No, they said to use Class III venting" (which you can't common vent). He then went on to say that all Class III venting is just single wall tubing with gaskets inside it and clamps on the outside. And what do the manufactures know anyway, and code is overkill.

He pointed out that the existing water heater's vent doesn't even seal tightly to the unit, so why should this (completely different kind of water heater) have venting that seals tightly. When I asked him if he was a licensed HVAC contractor, he stormed away.

Well, it turns out that code exists to protect home owners from contractors that do shoddy work, and yeah, manufactures actually do know what they're talking about (and to prove it, they're willing to spend big bucks to get that UL label).

The reason you have to use Class III venting is because the high efficiency tankless water heater has a blower to exhaust the combustion gasses (and get better/hotter combustion) and that means it pressurizes the exhaust vent. Class III pipe has seals to make sure that exhaust gasses don't escape the vent and end up in your house.

The reason that you don't common vent an appliance with a blower is because the positive pressure in the venting will go out the path of least resistance, which may be another appliance and not necessarily outside the house.

I didn't even want to get into if he had installed a back draft preventer to keep the heat exchanger from freezing in our -20F winters...

And this is why home owners are encouraged to get permits and contractors do things to code. Permits are so that a knowledgeable, independent, person can double check your, or your contractor's, work. And code is there so you can feel reasonably confident that you won't destroy your brand new water heater next winter, or kill your family with incorrectly vented exhaust.

Maybe tomorrow he'll be talking to me again... In the mean time, I hope everything's OK at his friend's house.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Hot stuff

Friday evening I got my tankless uber water heater installed and running. I got the optional electronic thermostat which is pretty cool since it lets you set the heater's temp above and beyond what the built in dip switches let you do (from 100F to 167F with the thermostat).

This bad boy is rated at 300 gallons an hour of hot water, and it will do that every hour, until it runs out of gas, water, or electricity. Compare this to the original 40 gallon water heater which can only do 60 gallons in the first hour (and who knows how much in the second hour), though it can do it without electricity (but so far we've not had any power issues, so that's a minor concern). I haven't thrown out the old water heater yet. It's got valves on it, so it's shut off from the system and can be disposed of at my leisure. I may keep it around though because it could be converted to be a storage tank for when I need an instant 40 gallons of hot water (which seems unlikely, but you never know).

I took it out for a spin by taking a nice long shower Friday night, and I wasn't disappointed. To further test its capabilities I decided to take my soaker tub for a spin. I seriously doubt that the old water heater, even in its prime, which it's far from, would have been able to fill the tub. I don't know how big the tub is, but it's at least 60 gallons (it's physically larger than the external dimensions of the 40 gallon water heater), and might be closer to 80 gallons. However, the idiot plumbers plumbed the tub with 1/2" lines, feeding into 1/4" soft copper lines which feed into the 3/8" mixer valves. Ugh, it took close to 20 minutes to fill the tub. Next time I use the tub, if I ever do, I'll crank the heater up to 167F so that I can mix in lots of cold water to speed the filling process.

The tub incident left me wondering about the existing water heater and the tub. I know from taking a shower that the new water heaters pumps out water just as hot as the old water heater, so the previous owners surely suffered the same lethargic tub filling experience I did. If I recall correctly, the previous owner said that they never really used the tub, and I'm guessing this is why. I wonder if I was to replace the 1/4" line with 3/8" line if the tub would fill any faster (there might be an anti-scald valve in there slowing things down). When I redo the bathroom I had better find that there are 3/4" lines in the main wall and not 1/2" lines running all the way from the basement. Well, those are questions to be answered on another day.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Lovin' the weather

Lately the weather has been just about perfect, if you ask me. What is perfect? Perfect is low humidity, clear bright skies, low to light winds, and temps in the mid 30's. That's perfect weather for me.

The weather is perfect for walking to lunch, working outside around the house, and general windows down/heater up driving. I wish more days were like this.

I think the key to enjoying these days is the undershirt. What a brilliant invention. If I had known about it before, maybe I would have been more comfortable in CA. It's weird, but with an undershirt, a thin long sleeved shirt, and my never-to-be-seen-without REI fleece jacket, I'm toasty warm down to about 0F. Without the undershirt, I was shivering at 55F in CA.

The weird thing is that the undershirt doesn't cause me to get over heated in the 70F office. How's that possible? I'm just as comfortable at 70F as I am at 0F with exactly the same amount of clothes on. Weird, huh?

This weekend should be just about perfect... Ah, I like it here.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Thievin' Bastards!

What lawless land have I moved to? I mean really, I moved from California, the wild wild west, to the bible belt (well, maybe the bible belly button, but we're close, right?).

Luckily I was spared being robbed for a second time since moving here, but the Ho King, a little Chinese restaurant that has the only decent Mongolian Beef that I've found in two states, was broken into yesterday and had their entire cash register stolen.

I don't know how much they got away with, but I imagine that cash registers themselves aren't too cheap, and it's certainly a nuisance to have to buy a register first thing when you get to work.

What's the world coming to? I thought people were supposed to be nicer in the Midwest? Or is it true that the closer you get to New York, the meaner the people get?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Lucy pictures

For the longest time, I've had only one picture of Lucy that I took a day or two after adopting her three months ago.

Tonight I took some more pictures (some action, some with flash, some without -- those are the blurry ones) so that you all can see how much she's grown (both up, and out -- she was doing fine until I left her with a self feeder for a few days and apparently she pigged out on kitten chow -- she's about 8 months old).

This picture is an OK shot of her "thumbs". She's almost got opposable thumbs, and it looks like she's wearing mittens. From what I understand, though uncommon, it's certainly not rare. Her "thumbs" work as well as any of her other fingers, and she's able to grasp small things (my fingers mainly), though typically she picks stuff up in her mouth.

Nothing much to say

It's been a while, and I've not had anything to report, so I thought I would type up a few things. I still don't have anything really interesting to say, but that's never really stopped me before.

Not much going on with the home front. I keep meaning to work on running more wires for the network, but I haven't. I suppose I should have run the wires to the rooms I don't use first, because once I got the wires that I really wanted/needed installed, the job pretty much hit a standstill. Isn't that always how it goes?

I realized last week, when a local Chili's opened up in Woodbury, how homesick for familiar food I have been. The nearest Outback is a little bit of a drive (nothing by MN standards, but I used to have one across the street from work), which is a bit off-putting. However, I actually went to Chili's much more often, and have fond memories since I almost always went with friends. Now there is one on my way home from work. I've taken the opportunity to go there four times in the last six days, and I'll probably go there again tonight.

As long as we're talking about the little things, every morning Lucy makes me laugh because it seems she can't eat without a quick trip through the pantry. Can you say obsessive compulsive? It used to be that she would run in as I scooped her food and jump on the shelves and otherwise make a pest of herself. I scolded her to the point where she no longer jumps on the shelves, but she still feels the need to be right there for the action. This translates into her dashing through my legs as I scoop her food and her running counter-clockwise through the pantry while making a squeaking sound, and running right back out to stand and yell at me. Every morning she does this, and every morning I laugh about the little patterns that seem to carry us though our day.

I saw this entertaining little article about Michael Schumacher, the Formula One race driver, talking about how he only gives his kids 2 Euros allowance each week. They're 8 and 6. Hardly seems news worthy -- must have been a slow news day.