Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What The Heck-a-Roonie For

I’ve gotten a few emails and some blog comments asking why I would even want or need a home network. It’s difficult to say, exactly. I guess more than anything, I just want it. I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it. I think it would be cool to have a home network and be able to stream music and video to every room in the house. Wireless will never cut it for that. At least not at the moment.

I’ve decided I need a better plan of attack, though. I’ve been kind of all over the place with hardware and software ideas, and not really sure which way to go. As I hinted at in my last post, I don’t think there is One Way to do this, on the hardware end. That is to say, each room, or type of room, is different. What works in the parlor may not be appropriate for the kitchen, and that may not work for the bedrooms.

I need to start with the basics so I can try things out. I think the over all success of this is going to come down to software. Hardware is an important part of the equation, but you can only do so much with cables and routers. Poorly written software will sink any project, I don’t care how good the hardware is.

Of course, I can’t really play with software until I at least have a basic server up and running, so that is where I need to start. The good news is, I was wrong about the cost of the ClarkConnect server software. I said it was $375 for a 10 user license, but it is really free for someone like me. There is a small business edition that is $375, and an Enterprise edition that is for larger implementations that costs more, but the homer version is free. This is fairly common in the Linux world. The caveat is, you get no technical support with the home version, but there is an active user base that is there to help.

So that part is taken care of. I downloaded the 475 MB ClarkConnect distribution today. Now what I need is the box (e.g. a computer to load the software on and act as a server). Once I get that I can set up a mini network and play around with it to see what works and what doesn’t.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dear Santa,

So, I’ve been working on my Christmas list the past few weeks. Now, I don’t want to get duplicates of some of the items on the list, so we need to coordinate here. Once you’ve picked something from the list that you want to get me, email me to make sure someone else hasn’t already selected it. I think if we all work together, this can be a very nice Christmas for all of us….Especially me.

I’ve been looking more at my options for bringing The Petch house in to the 21st Century. I want something that will work, but I also want to avoid what I call the Ma & Pa Kettle syndrome, and I don’t want this to cost more than the kitchen remodel. It’s a balancing act.

If you’re not familiar with Ma & Pa Kettle, they made several movies in the late 40s and early 50s. They were dim-witted hicks with more kids than they had teeth. They always seemed to get stuck in these ridiculous situations because they were just so stupid. (Google Ma & Pa Kettle Math to give you some idea.) The one movie I remember was “The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle”. They win a 1950s House of The Future where everything is automated, push button, and ridiculously overly complicated. Match that with the Kettle Clan and hilarity ensued.

I’ve been getting some comments from people that have been very helpful, but some of them really over shoot the mark on what I’m want. That doesn’t mean that I want the comments to stop. The Myth TV link is very nice, but way too complicated. If I need to fish through menus to watch a TV show, it seems to complicated to me. Part of this comes down to the fact that I’m not a big TV watcher. It’s not that I don’t watch more than my fair share of TV, I do. It is more that I think the vast majority of it is so crappy that I have no intention of ever recording something for playback later unless it is a one time shot.

I don’t need 500 gigabytes of storage to store TV shows that are crap. I can’t see ever subscribing to a service like TiVo because nothing on TV is really worth that much money or effort, and what ever is worth watching will be playing again within 6 months. They just don’t write as many TV episodes as they used to. You get 12 to 15 new episodes a year of a popular TV show. Every episode will get played several times over a 52 week period, and sometimes even twice in the same week.

I’m a geek but I get easily frustrated with complicated interfaces. I think some of this comes from the fact that I write software and I pride myself on interface design. There is this need among a lot of developers to throw the kitchen sink at the software. It gets to the point that it becomes exhausting to use when you just want to do something simple. Not everything needs to be developed for the super geek. It is OK to sometimes dumb things down and give them ease of use and basic functionality.

{Four paragraph technology rant deleted here}

To get a better idea of what I’m thinking about here, think of the DVD players on a computer. You can watch a full length DVD movie on just about any computer you buy today. The old laptop I’m using even has a set of buttons on the face designed just for playing DVD movies. I’ve never used those buttons. I’ve never watched a 2 hour movie on my laptop. I’m willing to bet few people have ever sat in there home and watched a full-length movie on their computer. Why would you when you have a nice comfy couch, with a nice big TV, with a DVD player, with a remote control.

The DVD player on computers enhances the computer experience, it does not replace the TV/DVD player in the living room. What I think would be nice is to enhance the TV experience with basic computing abilities like browsing the internet. And since I’m going to be running a home network, why not throw in music that can be played in any room off the network. That is pretty much it. I have no intention of getting rid of my computer, nor do I have any intention of sitting on the couch to work on spreadsheets. Its not conducive to that sort of thing, just as the computer is not conducive to watching full length movies.

So the options are to have a TV that acts like a computer a small part of the time. Or have a computer that acts like a TV the majority of the time. I still haven’t figured out which is best, and I don’t think there is one answer to this question. More on that later….

So, here is a few of the goodies I found on-line. Some were through comments left after some of my other rants…er, I mean blog entries, and others I found by surfing. Remember, the goal is TV, Music, Internet on one screen. It needs to reasonably simple to use and not cost a lot.


Gigabyte’s HDMI & HDCP Graphics Card – It has several video output types. This would be used to get the computer video signal out to a TV, if the TV does not have VGA support. HDMI is the newest if Hi-Def sound and video technology for TVs and DVD players. I’m not sure how much this one is, but others start at around $100.


MVP Media - This gets video and music on to the TV over a LAN connection. It comes with a remote control and costs about $100. It is interesting, but I’m not sure if this is the way I would go.

Squeeze Box - I liked this idea. For around $300 you get a music player that plays streaming music over TCP/IP from the server. It has a remote, server software, and some nice features. I can't see putting one in every room, but I can see some applications for it.

TVBox 9 – This will turn an LCD computer monitor in to a TV. It is basically tuner with a remote. I runs about $200. This same company makes a plethora of TV/Computer type products with prices that are sub $100 to well over a $1000.


VideoLAN – This is an open source video streaming (server) and VLC media player (client). This one I need to read up on a lot more, but it looks like it has promise, but it does have an awful lot of bells and whistles.


MythTV – This is another open source PC Based TV system. It is just jammed packed full of features. This would be for viewing a TV signal through a PC. I can’t see doing that at this time. When the TV is so easy to use, the last thing I want to do is make it more complicated.


PCTV HD Ultimate Stick – This one I thought was interesting. It is a TV tuner on one of those USB memory sticks. You plug it in to a USB port on your computer and then hook up the coaxial cable. The stick can record up to 2 hours of video from the TV signal and it comes with a remote. $129.00


ClarkConnect – This is a Linux based, open source server software. I think it was $375 for a one-time 10 user license, or you can pay $75 a year for regular upgrades. I need to do more reading on this, but already I like it better than having to buy Windows Server 2003.

Home Network Supply – This is an Ebay store that has what seems to be – to my untrained eye, anyway – a good selection of basic hardware stuff for home telecom.


Thin Clients – This is sort of a throwback to the old main frame days when you had a drone on your desk and pulled everything from a main frame computer. I really like these. These are small computers (about the size of a 4 port router) with no hard dive. They often show them mounted on the back of the monitor. Basically it is a processor, ram, network interface card, and some ports for video and what have you. The HP ones start around $200 and go up to $500.


LCD Monitors – You can get a 19-inch one for around $200 these days. Not much more to talk about there.

Wireless Keyboard and Mouse – Take your pick. Maybe $50.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bathroom: Before, In-between & After

There is not much to the before. It is just a couple of pictures of the room from different angles. It is a small room and tough to get pictures of it.



In the photo above, that is the bathroom at the far end, beyond the water heater. This shot is taken from the dining room, looking through the butler’s pantry, and in to the scullery. The scullery is what eventually became the bathroom. As I’ve stated many times, these three rooms went through the earliest of modifications when they became Mrs. Petch’s apartment in 1915 when she turned the house in to a boarding house. The dining room and butler’s pantry were originally separated by cabinets, and that was a solid wall between the butler’s pantry and scullery.

The two big windows were removed and the small stained glass window is now centered on that wall. You can see the tub in the picture as well. That was going to be the original location of the tub. I ended up flipping it 90 degrees and it is on the wall to the left, out of the picture. There is now a solid wall were the water heater is. The medicine cabinet is on the other side of the water heater with the toilet next to it. The door to the bathroom is on the right, just out of the picture.



Here is another shot of those two big windows. While they are original to the house, this was not their original location. I won’t go in to how know, but it was very obvious.



And here is the same shot with the stained glass window. Below are three videos. The first, a tour of the room just after the rough in plumbing was finished. Then a very short video after the tile was up but not yet grouted. And finally, a video I shot three days ago of the finished room.

A note on You Tube Videos: They basically suck. Its like you get 10 pixels that smoosh together. It seems to me that the videos play better when you reduce the size. Changing the width & height parameters dosen't seem to do much. I did notice that if you click on the "Menu" button on the You Tube window the video will get smaller. To keep it that size, hover the mouse pointer over the "Other Video" images at the bottom of the You Tube window. It seems to play better for me that way.





Monday, November 19, 2007

More On The Future

"You have some options. Personally I've avoid having to switch inputs on a display and just have everything streamed. This would also allow for centralized DVR functionality. It also removes the requirement for a tuner in the display.

You might want to check out the open source project MisterHouse (http://misterhouse.sourceforge.net/). This is really geared towards home automation and not media distribution, but interesting none the less.

I think what you should really look at is MythTV (http://www.mythtv.org/). You setup a MythTV backend to handle tuners, recording, etc. while multiple fontends can then access the content. There are also many available modules to check the weather, email, surf the web, play video games, and much more. It's also possible to netboot the frontend software (http://parker1.co.uk/epia_minimyth.php) so that you can easily manage deployed software to all your displays. Just think, running one CAT6 gigbait wire to each room, rather than CAT5 and coax.


Above is exactly the type of response I was hoping for. This was a comment left yesterday after my disjointed description of what I hope to achieve in the way of telecom for the house. I don’t think anything here actually achieves my goals, but then, they may not be achievable at this point.

I haven’t actually had the time to look at the different links, but it is a great start and I wanted to thank Rwohleb for taking the time to post the comment. You can be sure I’m going to be investigating all of this over the next few months.

The real issue that may be a stumbling block is the issue of the cabling I have in place. I must work with what I have. It is hard to believe that CATV is outdated, but that is just the nature of the industry. Four years ago I pulled 2 CATV and 2 Coaxial cables from under the house, up through 3 floors, and in to the attic. It is there, and it is going to stay there, and I’m going to use it. If I took the time to rip it all out and pull in CAT6 cable, by the time I got the whole system up and running, there would be CAT7 cable available.

As I write, I writing on a 6 year old lap top that has not had new software installed in years. I’m not an early adopter. I don’t play the hardware/software upgrade two-step. This goes back to my original post yesterday about wanting simple to use stuff. I don’t want to tinker with it and tweak it and then need to worry about replacing it in a few years. I just want to use it. keep it simple.

After I wrote my blog entry yesterday I started to think about all of the old and new technology in the house. The old stuff is simple to use and instantaneous. Flip a switch and the light comes. Pick up a phone receiver and the dial tone is buzzing away before you can get it to your ear. You turn on a TV and the sound and picture come up in a second at most.

My new DVD player/recorder takes a good 20 seconds to boot-up. With an old VCR you could go from power-down to be recording a tape in 10 or 15 seconds. The DVD needs to be formatted first. If I wanted to quickly start recording a DVD it would take a good 2 to 3 minutes from the time I turn on the unit until I can actually start recording.

Computers are even worse. Think of the wasted hours we’ve all spent staring at an hour glass on the screen. It’s true, they save a lot of time in that once they get going they can do some things really, really fast, but it really needs to get better. And it’s changing all of the time. The last time I replaced my TV I did it because the old one broke not because the technology was out-dated. It must get simpler and faster if I’m expected to integrate it in to my life.

In the idea above, the central idea is to have several tuners connected to a network and then stream the signal to monitors. It sounds good – hell, it sounds great – but is the technology there, and if it is, is it affordable and easy to use. If 3 people turn on TVs watching different channels, and other is playing a game, and yet another is listing to music, could the network keep up? Could you imagine getting and hour glass in the middle of a TV show.

This was why in my dream set-up the TV signal still comes in the old fashioned way. I wouldn’t want to build a whole-house system only to find out that it falls so short of the mark that only a few of the aspects of it are really usable.

Who knows where this will end up. There are a lot of options out there.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Future Is Not Now

So this about a first look at a project I plan to start after the first of the year. I'm just sort of thinking here, with no clear plan at this point, and there is a lot of dreaming. I have an overall concept, with goals, but there is no telling what the end results will be. Basically, I want to give the 4 bedrooms, the parlor, and kitchen access to internet, TV, and music. Ideally it would be all pulled from a central location - a hub, or brain center of the house. For me this will be in the butler's pantry. I like ease of use over functionality. I think of it in terms as designing a system my Mother could use, and my Mother is about the least technologically advanced person I know.

The backend can be advanced and will need someone who knows what they are doing to maintain it, but I imagine that for the prefect system, the-end user side would be fairly simple and without a lot of hardware. When I was staying at a Hyatt hotel last month they had an in-room internet service that was pretty crappy, but fairly easy to use. You accessed the system with a wireless keyboard and the use of the TV remote and there was no username/password necessary. As I said, it was crappy, and slow, and it was also very proprietary.

I picture something like that, but hopefully done better. Ideally, in the kitchen and bedrooms there would be a small flat screen monitor, 2 small speakers, and a wireless keyboard and mouse in each room. The parlor would be the same setup, only with better speakers and a larger monitor. In a perfect world there would be no computer to turn on and wait to boot-up, and no username\password to log on. The computer side of it should be as quick and simple to use as a TV. Internet, TV and music would always be on, and email, if it was needed would be a generic account that anyone could use at anytime without a user name/password. Much like the telephone.

If a more robust system is needed for a home office or for gaming, and it most certainly would be, there is no reason why a full computer system couldn't be set up in a room where it is needed and this system could be used for TV, music, and generic internet use.

It seems what I need are monitors with a TV tuner, a CPU, memory, and network interface card. There would be inputs for cable TV and LAN, and outputs for audio, and I suppose a few USB slots would be nice. The computer part would by just another input selection. Right now my TV has input selections of TV, Component Video, HDMI, DVD, Video 1, and Video 2. The HDMI is to give a simulated high definition signal from the hi-def DVD player. I think the Component Video is another way of getting better definition form a DVD, VCR, or video camera, but I've never used it. I use HDMI.

There wouldn't need to me a hard drive, because everything would come from the server. There would be a limited OS that would be read from flash memory. It would always sit in standby mode when the unit is turned off, but still plugged in. This is not something that I would ever want to pull the top off to put in more memory, and upgrade the video card, or install new software. My days of wanting to fool with computer hardware and software are long over. I want to be able to turn it on and use it quickly and easily. The OS would be small and just run a two applications that can be upgraded from the server. First there would be a web browser. The email client would be just your basic SMTP email client run through the browser. The email would be passed to a server side application that would assign user name and passwords based on admin settings (e.g. The Smith Family smithfam@sbcglobal.net) The other application would stream video and music from the server.

Maybe something like this already exists. If it doesn't, I'm staking my claim to the idea right now, and I'll sue the pants off anyone that markets this idea in the future and does not pay me royalties or give me stock options.

The server side will be like a small office server set up with a high speed router to stream video and music. Video and music could either be run from the hard drive or from a CD/DVD player. The TV/Web Computers in the rooms would basically have a robust guest account and would be logged on automatically. Other more traditional user accounts could be set up and managed like in a traditional networked office. Users would have private email and folders on the server that would be accessed from a real computer, but also be able to access video and music from their computers.

So far what I have is 2 coaxial cables and 2 CATV cables run to each room and they are all in a bundle hanging from a joist under the butler's pantry floor. As I said, this is just a start at think about what to do. I have a long ways to go, and something tells me the end product will not look like what I described above.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mini Plinths To The Rescue!

I had an epiphany of sorts last night about my marble/backsplash/casing dilemma. I had decided to do the wood backsplash, but the problem was still with the casing. Even with the marble backsplash, the problem was with the casing. It has always been the casing. The issue with the marble was that it was too thick and heavy for the backsplash. Even if I got thinner marble, or switched to thinner wood, the casing would still come down and meet the marble. This is an inappropriate, and an inelegant way of doing this sort of thing.

Extending the backsplash out to the edges and having the casing come down on top of it does not really solve the problem either. I can’t just have the casing come down on top of the backsplash because the backsplash would have some sort of routered detail on the top. Even if it is just a simple round over, the square casing can’t come down on to the round-over. It just wouldn’t look right.

I started think more about how casing is usually dealt with. In this style of house – High Victorian Queen Anne – trim work just doesn’t come to end. There is a transition piece of sorts. For casing, it is usually a plinth block. Ding! The light went off. Why not have plinth blocks on top of the marble. The casing and backsplash can meet the plinth blocks, just as casing and baseboards meet the plinth blocks for a traditional doorway.

I got lucky in that the plinth blocks in this house are fairly simple raised panel blocks. The plinth blocks in the rest of the house are 12-inches high. Too high for the top of the counter. The backsplash is only going to be 6-inches high, so keeping with the reveal in the rest of the house, the mini plinths for the marble should only be 6.5 to 7 inches high.

The reveal is very important. This is the portion of one piece of trim work that sticks out a bit farther than the adjoining piece. It gives a shadow line and adds definition to the trim work. It makes it appear more substantial, or more correctly, it defines just how substantial it is.

If the casing is ¾ of an inch thick, then the plinth blocks and corner blocks should be at least a full-inch thick. Just as well, the plinth and corner blocks should be a bit wider than the casing and baseboards. Also, the plinth blocks should be a bit taller than the baseboards. The plinth blocks should “sit proud” of the casing and baseboard.

As I said, the plinth blocks in the rest of the house are 12-inches high. If I did 12-inch high plinth blocks on top of the counter I would need an 11.5-inch backsplash. You want the plinth block to sit proud of the adjoining trim, but not so much that it is offensive to the eye. I could not have 12-inch plinth blocks and a 6-inch backsplash. It would just look odd. Instead, I made diminutive sized plinth blocks to go with the smaller backsplash.

The plinth blocks are 7-inches high and the backsplash is 6.5-icnhes high. The plinth blocks are a total of an inch and a quarter thick, but there is a quarter inch raised panel in the center, so the outside edge is 1-inch thick. This meets up with the three quarter inch thick casing and the three quarter inch thick backsplash. The proportions are correct…..or, as correct as they are going to get, given the circumstances.

I’m really very happy with this. I think the design of the corner cabinet was problematic to begin with, and had I been able to think all of this through to begin with, I might have done the whole thing different. As it is, I think it will look ok. I had to remove the casing and cut it done, so I went ahead and pulled out the marble, and polished it up a bit. I never really finish the edges, and just sort of slapped it in there for the party.

I think I’m go to like this. Here is a “before” (not really “before”, because I never finished the marble) and the After.

Meaty Marble Before


Mini Plinths After!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Votes Are In

Thanks to everyone who voted in yesterday’s poll, and for leaving all of the comments.

First off, as for the fate of the backsplash, going without one is out of the question. The beadboard does not go all the way down to the marble now, and even if I could find a bunch of salvaged 5-foot lengths of 7/8-inch thick redwood beadboard, I wouldn’t rip out what is there and replace it just to gain the extra 2 inches. There will be a backsplash, one way or another.



The idea of a wood backsplash was an early favorite and retained the lead throughout the entire voting process. I must admit, when I first saw that a lot of people were voting for wood my first thought was, “Pfffft! Wood?!? What a bunch of idiots!”. Then I started to think, “You know, those idiots just might be on to something.”

I had a few other thoughts throughout the evening yesterday – Oh, and the party was a lot of fun. I think there were 22 people, and I got to talk at length about The Petch Family and plaster. Two of my favorite topics. Anyway, one thought was to use the casing as a backsplash. I would re-cut the pieces that are there so the bottom corners are mitered and then continue the casing as a backsplash. It would be one continuous run of casing down one side, behind the marble, and then up the other side. I toyed with that idea for a while and then dismissed it.

The second idea was to use the diamond blade on the circular saw, and with a homemade jig, I would split the existing marble backsplash. It would take two passes, but I could cut off oneseeeem and get it down to twoseeem. I still might try something like that.

In the end though, I moved closer and closer to the idea of a simple wood backsplash. I think that is what I will end up doing. If I can get it done this weekend, I can finally shoot the long awaited “after video” of the bathroom and mudroom.

There’s Oscar buzz already, and I haven’t even made the video. Its that big.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Second Thoughts

Me?! Have second thoughts about the work I’ve done?!? Never. Well, almost never. Ok, damn it, all the time. Today I cut and sort of installed the marble backsplash on the two corner cabinets. The pieces of marble are cut to length, but the ends aren’t finished and they are not secured to anything. They are just sort of sitting in place for the party tomorrow. The plan is to finish them this weekend. Here is a picture of the one I’m having problems with.



There are two problems with this picture. But before I get in to that, let’s all take a minute to admire the beauty of this marble. This picture just does not do it justice at all. The veining and splotches of gray and black look like something from a 1970s acid trip….a good acid trip. It is just beautiful.

Its not like what you are seeing is a mistake or anything. This is how I planned it, but to me this is an excellent example of how things can appear in my mind in one way, and then in reality they don’t really work. The plan was to always have the casing come down and meet the counter and then have the backsplash sit in between the casing. This is not right.

The backsplash should extend to the end of the counter and then the casing come down on top of the backsplash. To be honest, even that is barely acceptable. If I had had the room I would have the casing go all the way down to the floor on either side of the cabinet and then the backsplash fill-in between the casing. Maybe this lead to my obvious design flaw. In my mind I was picturing casing and backsplash and not taking in to account that the counter was going to be filling in more room than it normally would.

The other problem is the thickness of the backsplash. This should be the twoseeem marble (that is 2 centimeter marble for the uninitiated). I had originally intended to get twoseeem marble for both the counter and backsplash. The twoseeem marble is about the same thickness of the casing. What I ended up having to get was the threeseeem marble (That would be 3 centimeters). It works for the counter but doesn’t work for the backsplash. It just looks odd.

So here are my choices. One, do nothing. Finish off the pieces as best I can and hope that I won’t notice after a while. Two, get longer pieces of threeseeem marble that will extend the full width of the counter and cut the casing back. The guys at the marble place have already told me they don’t have now, nor do they have any plans in the future, to bring in more twoseeem marble. Three, get rid of the marble altogether and make a wood backsplash and paint it the same color as the beadboard. Four, go back to the monument maker who has small pieces of twoseeem (I think) and see if he will cut me new backsplash pieces. This would only really work if it was a good match to what is there now.

I haven’t done a poll in a long time, so let’s put it too a vote. Of course, I’ll end up doing what I want any way, but just like in national politics, it will give you the feeling that you really have a say it what is going to happen.


What to do with the marble?
Do nothing. Finish as is.
Get longer threeseeem.
Make wood backsplash.
Try and get longer twoseeem.
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Monday, November 12, 2007

I’m On A Roll

I seem to enjoy complaining about outside help. Contractors, suppliers, and just about anybody whom I ask for help always seems to let me down. Perhaps I expect too much. I can’t really say, but at least the two suppliers who said that would produce for me this past week, didn’t let me down. Blue Ox Mill got the millwork done, and Granite Fab got the marble done.

I picked up the marble on lunch today and it is really beautiful. The veining is just spectacular in it. How someone can install granite after looking at this stone is beyond me. Getting it in took a bit of finagling, and it is not 100% perfect, but its pretty damn good.

I got the two counters and the remaining casing installed. By the time I got the last coat of paint on the casing it was too late to do the backsplash. You know it’s a last minute, rush job, project when you’re outside washing a paint brush in the dark and in the rain.

Tomorrow I can cut the backsplash pieces and install them, and then finish the clean up for the shin-dig on Wednesday. I don’t think I will finish the backsplash tomorrow, but I will get it cut and in place. After the party I can finish the edges and then install it permanently.

By this weekend these two rooms - the bathroom and mudroom - will be completely finished and I can finally shoot the “After Video”. Then it is on to the next project: The Brain {insert evil laugh here}.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Either Way Its Bad

I’ve come to the conclusion that working with paint is no fun, regardless of whether you are stripping it off, or brushing it on. They are both laborious, tedious, and time consuming tasks that make any project seem to come to a grinding halt.

They also happen to both be, not only necessary jobs, but jobs that can make a dramatic impact on the project. Stripping off layers of drippy paint can make almost any piece of wood look great again, and nothing makes a whole room look better than a fresh coat of paint. It is an odd paradox that painting is both improving room, while at the same time adding to its slow degradation.

That new coat of paint may only be a tiny fraction of an inch thick, but it reduces some of the profile just a hair. Over time, with many more successive coats, the excessive build-up of paint make a room look old and dingy. There will come a point when the benefits of a fresh coat of paint will be marginal at best, and may even do more harm than good in the long run. It will become something like painting over an old dented and rusted car with a can of spray paint. It may look OK from across the parking lot, but when you get up close it is easy to see someone wasted their time and money on quick-fix, spray paint job.

It’s a never ending cycle and I spent several hours both today, yesterday, and the day before renewing that cycle. I always apply one coat of primer and two top coats, and apply one coat per day for three days. In that time, there is little else that can be done in the room. And even if there were, painting takes so long, there isn’t really much time left to do anything else.

The best part is its done. I got all of the trim installed in the mudroom and painted, with the exception of the last two pieces that will go in after the marble counter is installed on the corner cabinet. If the Universe is willing, that will happen tomorrow, and pictures will follow.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Blue Ox Did It!

Today was the day. All week long I couldn’t stop wondering if Eric down at Blue Ox Mill was going to come through for me. Three weeks ago I took him down a sample of casing and two weeks passed without me even getting a bid. Finally, last Friday I went down ready for a fight to either get my samples or my millwork.

It turned out Eric had been sick. Last Friday, he first he tells me 2 weeks. I explained my situation, that I needed the mill work by this weekend because of the party I’m having on Wednesday. He said he would try and get it done but made no guarantees.

So this morning I called around 10:30 and much to my relief the millwork was ready to be picked up. Yea! Not only that, but a few pieces were run in redwood even though I requested poplar to save some money. I need 14, 6-foot pieces of the casing and 2 of the pieces of poplar that came from the lumberyard were split. One, he could run, but only about half is usable. The other was too far gone. So Eric ran two pieces of redwood, and didn’t charge me extra, and gave me the partially split piece of poplar at no charge. On top of that, all of the plinth blocks are redwood. With the extra pieces of casing I have the attic I can do one whole door in redwood.



I went down on lunch to pick it up. Eric was standing out front when I pulled up, so we went back in the mill to gather up the wood work. We got to talking about the building. It’s just a great place. So full of character. I had been told that the building was one of Eureka’s early power plants, but I know for a fact that there was a power plant and coal gas plant at the foot of H street. That is where Thomas Petch worked, after all. Eric told me that the power plant at the foot of X street, where the Blue Ox Mill now stands, was built for the trolley car system. Works for me.

Anyway, after we loaded the wood in to my truck we go back inside to settle up the bill. After that I head out the door and I’m half way across the parking lot when Eric comes to the door. He yells something out to me but I don’t quite hear him. I thought he said, “Tell everyone about the quick turn around time”. I yelled back that I would be sure to tell everyone how he came through in a pinch. He yells back, “No. No. Don’t tell anyone about the quick turn-around. I don’t want to ruin my reputation”. We both laughed.

In other news, I got another call from the marble people today. This was another woman than who I spoke to earlier in the week. She was basically telling me the same thing, that they don’t have the twoseeem marble and it would either have to be the threeseeem or I would need to wait. I explained that I had had the exact same conversation on Monday or Tuesday. She had no idea what I was talking about. I went on to tell her that I needed the marble on Monday, and if they couldn't make all of the cuts I would just take a large slab and cut it myself. This caught her off-guard and she said she would need to call me back.

She called back 5 minutes later and assured me the marble would be cut and ready to go on Monday, and I could pick it up by noon. I was happy. It is going to work out, but it is not ideal.



The way the corner cabinet is built in between two doors, two pieces of casing come done on top of the marble. That means that ideally I would install the marble first and then the casing. Well, I can’t wait for that. There are three doors that need to be trimmed out, so I can do one whole door and all but one side of the other two doors. I will ballpark and cut the short pieces of casing that will meet up with the marble and primer and paint them with the other doors. After marble is install Monday or Tuesday, I can cut them to length and slap in those last pieces in place, and then quickly putty and paint over the nail holes. It should work.

Monday, November 05, 2007

It Just Might Happen

I heard something from the marble people today. It was a little surprising given their behavior the last time I dealt with them. The last time I had to make repeated calls to get answers. The woman I gave the samples to last Wednesday called today to tell me that they only have “3CM” marble. She said that the sample I brought in was “2CM”.

She just used the industry jargon “2CM” and “3CM” as if I should instantly know what this means. She is not saying “2 centimeters” and “3 centimeters”, but rather “Two SEE EM” and “Three SEE EM”, and she says it so fast that it rolls off her tongue like it is one word.

I find this a little irritating and it is one of my pet peeves when someone uses acronyms and abbreviations that are used solely in their industry and they just assume that everyone knows exactly what they are talking about. Like the time the bank teller asked me I wanted to make the deposit to my “S-51 account”. What the hell does “S-51” mean to me. Well, it turns out my business checking is S-51 and my home equity account is an L-29, but how would I know that.

I got the message from the marble woman on my machine and with a little research I found that 2 centimeters and 3 centimeters are standard thicknesses for marble. One centimeter equals about 0.39 inches, so this makes sense. The marble I bought the last time was about ¾ of an inch, or twoseeem, which would equal 0.78 inches. So the threeseeem marble is 1.17 inches thick.

So my options are few. I don’t blame them for not wanting to go an by a whole slab of twoseeem marble, because I’m not willing to do that myself. I could start the whole process over and try and find someone with twoseeem marble, but I really don’t want to do that either. I’ve decided I’ll get the threeseeem and just make it work.

The cabinet tops have been trimmed out and the marble was supposed to sit down in to the edge trim so the trim and marble are flush with each other. With the threeseeem it will stick up 0.39 inches. There are two things I can do. One, I can remove the trim and remove the ¾ inch wooden support top and replace it with ¼ inch shims. It really doesn’t need the wood under the marble for support. The other option is to finish the outside edge with a round-over but and have the marble sit proud of the trim. I haven’t decided which way to go.

The woman asked me when I needed it and I told her next Tuesday. I added that, if they didn’t have time to make all of the cuts, they could just make one cut and give me a larger piece and I would finish all of the cuts myself. I’ve worked with marble enough now that I feel very confident in doing it. Hopefully I’ll hear from them tomorrow or Wednesday.

I did manage to get the window in the mudroom trimmed out. That is, after I straightened the window. roll eyes This one has a marble stool just like the one in the bathroom.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Falk Death March

There was a time when I could hike 10 miles like it was a stroll to the corner market. Those days are long gone, so yesterday’s 12-mile hike was more like a death march for the last few miles. It’s not that I’m in bad shape, so much as I’m just out of practice.

Noah Falk founded the logging town of Falk in 1884. At that time is was more than an hours traveling distance from Eureka, so the town was self sufficient. Up until The Great Depression of the 1930s it was a successful lumber town with railroads, a large mill, post office, and housing for about 400 residents. By the 1940s is was a ghost town.






I’m sure it was in an effort to protect themselves from law suits, but some time in the 1970s the Pacific Lumber Company, who now owned the land decided to raze what was left of the town, so they bulldozed and burned everything. Time had reduced that 1884 hour long commute in to a 15 minute car ride from downtown Eureka. Apparently lots of people liked to go out there and explore the ghost town of Falk and some where getting hurt.

The BLM now manages the area and there is a nice, paved trail to the area where the town of Falk once was. Most of Falk is gone, but there are a few things still left, if you’re willing to go off the beaten trail. That’s is we did yesterday.

This was my first trip to Falk, but the friends I went with had been many times. We saw some old Model T Fords rusting in the trees. There was an old cabin that was falling apart. There was one odd little house that was no more than 8 feet wide and lined with benches on the walls. We suspected it was a feeding station for the loggers. They would haul up a chuck wagon to feed the men in the little cabin, rather than have them make there way back to town.

There was remnants of the railroad here an there with a few old trestles. The coolest thing was the old train barn. They could pull two locomotives in to it and there were pits in the ground where workers could service the engines from underneath. The barn is just buried in the trees now. Any remnants of tracks or roads from the town to the barn have long since been reclaimed by the forest. It was really very cool and well worth the pain and blisters.



















Friday, November 02, 2007

I’m Going With Blue Ox Again

I still hadn’t heard anything about the millwork as of today, so I went down on my lunch break to either get some answers or get my samples back. I expected the worst and I was prepared for battle. I had it all worked out in my head what I was going to say. I was going to be a polite, yet very stern in my condemnation of their business practices. I was going to go on and on about how I know I’m a “little guy” but that doesn’t mean I should be ignored. I was going get my samples back, and as I stepped out the door I was going turn back and have one final and succinct comment that would express my dissatisfaction and drive home the point that I would never be doing business with them again.

Something along the lines of…


“I used to have respect for you, but from now on I’m taking my business else where.”

“I came here for the quality of the workmanship, but you don’t know how to run a business. From now I’m going to Mad River Millworks”

“I’ve enjoyed doing business with you in the past, but no more! I’m going to be taking my businesses to someone who appreciates it.”

Anyway, you get the idea. Anyone of those would have done.

The Blue Ox Mill is at the foot of X street, right on the water. This area of town is sort of an odd mix of light industry, some retail, and a smattering of residential properties. Those few residential properties that still exist are all from the turn of the century. There are some nice homes that over time have ended up in a poor location. When you get to the end of X street there are a few clumps of shrubs very close on either side of a one lane dirt road that continues after X street seems to have ended. This is the entrance to the mill. The shrubs are so close that both mirrors on my truck brush against them as I drive through. It sort of feels like you’re driving in to the Bat Cave or something.

After just a few yards of driving on the dirt road you pass over some railroad tracks and then you start to see some odd things. There is a very large, doll house sitting there along the road. There is an antique, rusted, steam powered logging saw. There is a really large, carved statue of Paul Bunion (Blue Ox Mill, get it? There is also a real live ox named Babe some place on the mill property). There is a 1870s, story and a half settlement era home that sort of looks like it just landed on the site after being dropped by a tornado. There is also a large wooden fishing boat. More like a small ship, really. All around are piles of lumber and logs, along with other odd little things that you only notice if you really look. It has that feeling that some antique thing was headed for the dump and it found its way to the mill instead. When it arrived, it was placed some place on the property out of convenience and that is where it has sat ever since.

After driving on the dirt road for maybe 20 yards or so you come up on the mill. The building was one of Eureka’s first power plants. There is a very good chance that Thomas Petch spent a lot of time in there. I’ve been told the building is from 1902, but I’m not really sure. It is huge and it looks like it is about to fall over. There are always more than a couple of dogs wandering around out front or sleeping on the front stairs. Once inside there are a few cats sleeping on the counter or curled up next to the fire place.

The office is small and crowded, but just beyond the back wall of the office is the actual mill. I’ve been back in there on a few occasions. It is filled with restored and unrestored antique milling and logging equipment. Once when I was there I saw a guy working on a massive antique lathe turning a 12 foot log in to a Victorian porch column. The place seems to be half museum and half working mill. The owners work a lot with troubled youth as well, and there is even a radio station run by the kids someplace on the property. There is also, supposedly, a reproduction of an old logging camp on the mill site, but I’ve never seen it.

Inside the mill there are all sorts of vintage, architectural elements from buildings that no longer exist leaning up against walls and piled in corners. There are stacks of lumber here and there. There are small little rooms and stalls filled with piles of who knows what. It has a that disheveled look you would imagine finding in a 100 year old warehouse that has been a working mill for decades, and who knows what before that. The old plank flooring is uneven in places. The lighting is not great. And everything is covered in saw dust.

Anyway, so I walk up the stairs ready to state my case and try and find out what the hell is going on. I had run in to Viviana – Eric and Viviana are the owners - at the market on Tuesday and asked here why I hadn’t heard from her. She said that Eric, her husband, and the mill operator, and been sick at home for the past 4 or 5 days. Honestly, I didn’t believe her. We only spoke briefly as we passed each other in the parking lot. I sighed and sort of rolled my eyes.

When I walked in Eric was in the office. He looked like hell. He saw me walk in and said hello from across the room. As he came to the counter he grabbed my samples and some paper work from the his desk. He was coughing the entire time. It turns out he really was sick. The quote was written up and ready to go. I’m not sure if he had done it that morning or if it had been sitting around and they just didn’t bother to call. I didn’t ask. In fact, I didn’t say much at all. Even though he had been sick, I was still kind if pissed. I was just in no mood to deal with excuses.

Eric and Viviana are really very nice people. They don’t have the best business savvy in the world and some like to criticize their work. Yes, they have screwed up some of my jobs, but they made them right, for the most part. They’ve screwed up two jobs for me in the past 5 years. One they made right at no cost to me, and the other I never asked them to fix, but they did offer. The corner blocks I had them reproduce were about a quarter inch too thick. I decided it is not really noticeable, so I didn’t bother to take them back. Better too thick, than too thin.

So Eric hands me the quote and it’s more than I thought it would be. Several hundred dollars more, in fact. I asked if this quote is for redwood and he said it was. I’ve always gotten redwood in the past, but I decided to go with poplar this time to save some money. It’s all going to be interior and painted anyway. I told him I wanted poplar and he calls the lumber yard right then and there to get a price. The polar is exactly half the cost of redwood. He refigures the quote and it looks much better.

As he’s adding numbers I start to get a feel for when I’m going to get this. As a last minute favor to some friends – actually, I offered – I’m going to be holding a party in 2 weeks at my house for a bunch of old house nuts like myself. I’m hoping to get the mudroom finished by then. I ask Eric how business is and he tells me he’s crazy busy. Not a good sign. He says he’s quoting jobs now that he won’t start until April of next year. Gulp!

I ask him when I can get my stuff and he says that little jobs like this he can do right away and I should have it in two weeks. I’m sort of talking to him and Shelia at the same time. Shelia is the book-keeper/scheduler. As I’m pleading my case with her, Eric picks up the phone again to call the lumberyard to order the wood.

Eventually it was decided that they can have it a week from this Monday. That is two days before the party. Shelia said to call on Friday, one week from today, because they may be able to get it to me sooner. I’m not sure what to think. I left there feeling glad that I didn’t let my temper destroy the relationship, but I’m still a little ambivalent about it. I feel kind of like the wife whose husband keeps cheating on her and she keeps taking him back.

Maybe they’ve changed this time. I want to believe it, but you just never know. Maybe one week from tonight I’ll have my millwork, or maybe I won’t.