Sunday, December 30, 2007

What The Hell Do These People Want

That is the question. What do they want from me in order to get my house on the National Register of Historic Places. Well, there are several things that can get a house listed. One way is to think of it in terms of George Washington.

Did George Washington sleep here?
Did George Washington live here?
Did George Washington shoot somebody here?
Did George Washington sign something here?

For most properties listed it is not going to be George or anyone like George that had anything to do with the property. So than it must be size, right? If no one important had anything to do with it, then it must be a grand home, right?. Well, that’s not really all that important either. It was years ago that I read the criteria for considering a house to be listed, so this is my interpretation of it, but I seem to remember them talking a lot about Context.

A house, place, or building can be listed because someone important is associated with it, but it can also be that it is a good representation of a particular style that was constructed when that style was popular. And more importantly, that the house is still in its original context. It hasn’t been moved or changed drastically and it still retains a lot of the characteristics from the time it was constructed. Essentially, when you look at the house, you should be able to see it as it was and how it exists now in the same environment, even though the environment may have changed.

The style does not necessarily need to be true to some nationally recognized style because that would disqualify many regional variations of style. That is also, I think, where the whole Context thing comes in. If the property is a good representation of a regional style then it is a good candidate for listing. This could be an 1,100 square foot bungalow or a 16,000 square foot mansion.

I’m submitting two papers for the listing. One is a detailed description of the property itself. Mine is about 6 pages, single spaced. I describe the house in architectural terms, starting with all 4 elevations of the exterior and then each room of the interior. Along the way I do my best to point out what I think are important details that either help define the style, Queen Anne Revival, or elements that put the house in a regional context.

The second paper, which is also about 6 pages long, tries to express why the house should be listed. Here is the key sentence in the first paragraph that I use to plead my case.

“The house meets National Register Criterion C in the area of Architecture because it is an exceptional example of late Victorian architecture and it posses the craftsmanship of a regionally prominent master builder.”

In the next 6 pages that follow, I do my best to clarify that point. There are 4 areas of consideration that you can use to try and get your house listed. Obviously, I’m going for C. Below is a list of the 4 areas of consideration.

A. that are associated with events that have made significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B. that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

C. that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

D. that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

You can see that the way C is written it really opens up the door for just about anything. I think what it really comes down to is how well you plead your case. Any house in Levittown could be said to “represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction”. A lean-to shack on the Ozarks could be said to “embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction”.

Aside from the two write-ups, there is a cover sheet that gives a lot of basic information about me, the property, and its location. And then there are the photos, and I need to make a bibliography to site my sources.

Good news on the photo front. Three years ago when I looked in to this there were only a few ink jet printers listed on the National Parks site that were considered good enough to print archival quality photos. It really comes down to the ink and paper, and not so much the printer. The caveat is, only certain printers use certain inks. It was really a limited combination of ink and paper that made the grade. At the time, the least expensive printer was an Epson printer that used a 8 color, UltraChrome K3 ink. It started at about $900 just for the printer. The high-end ones go for a couple of grand. I went back and looked at the site this morning and they’ve add the Epson Picture Mate printer to the list. It must be a home version that uses the same ink and paper as the high-end Epson printers. This one goes for around $200!

They have also reduced the required size. Three years ago it was a minimum of 5X7 photos. Now is it 3½ x 5, which is great because the Epson Picture Mate only produces 4X6 photos. They do mandate that digital photos be accompanied by a CD containing TIF (Tagged Image File) images of the photos. These must be at least 1600x1200 pixels at 300 ppi. I’m not sure if my camera produces that resolution.

Once I submit the application, I have no idea how long the process takes. I fully expect to be asked to makes some changes or to clarify somethings. That is, if I’m not turned down immediately. I’ve been told that one thing that can kill an application right out is if the building has been moved. Mine hasn’t, but this would take the house out of its original context. I am a little concerned with the fact that the exterior had asbestos siding. Even though it is mostly original and has been fully restored, that still worries me.

I’m going to shoot for February 1st to mail off the application.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Going National

That’s that plan, anyway. We’ll see if The Nation welcomes me in to its open arms. I started this project a good 3 years ago, and the recent developments of finding an architect and builder’s name has brought it back to the forefront. Well, that, and the fact that it is too damn cold and wet around here to do anything else. If I can’t bang on wood with a hammer, I might as well bang on the keyboard with my fingers.

This is all about getting The Petch House the recognition is so sorely deserves. I’m going to try and get it listed on The National Register of Historic Places. As I said, I started this several years ago, but after writing and editing for months the whole thing sort of petered out when it came time to get pictures taken.

The historic preservation people demand - yes, thats right, Demand! - that the pictures that accompany the write-up be archival quality, black & white photos. These run $300 to $500 to produce. At the time, I was hemorrhaging cash on wiring, plumbing, paint, and tools trying to get this old shack in to a livable state. Spending that much on photos was not in the budget.

Before anyone writes and says that their $129 inch jet printer produces very nice B&W photos, I just want to say that that is not good enough for the listing application. When I was researching the whole process of submitting the application to the State Office of Historic Preservation (SOHP) I found that 99.9% of what is referred to as “Archival Quality” is not really Archival Quality. That term is tossed around so much these days that it has really lost almost all of its significance. The use of the term seems to have really taken off with the whole Scrap Book craze that has swept the nation over the last 5 years or so.

There is the term Archival Quality that is plastered in eye catching letters on packaging in stores, and then there is really Archival Quality materials used by professionals in the trade. The photos must be the latter, and they are not cheap. Now that I’m not building kitchens and bathrooms, though, I think I can find it in the budget to get the pictures produced.

So what does it mean to have your house listed on The National Register of Historic Places? Well, it doesn’t mean much. It is really little more than a feather in my cap and a nice plaque on the front door. In fact, I’m pretty sure I must buy the plaque myself if I want it.

The recognition is little more than just that – a recognition. There are no other restrictions placed on me, the house, or future owners, unless I get any type of Federal or State funding to maintain the property. If the house is listed on The National Register of Historic Places I could gut the inside, build a giant pink pyramid in here, sit under it naked, and eat dog poop. No one cares.

If you’ll notice, in order to list my house on The National Register of Historic Places, I first submit my application to the SOHP. Each state in the Nation has a SOHP. These offices do all of the vetting for the National Parks Service that maintains The National Register of Historic Places. Ninety-nine percent of all applications that make it past the SOHP and are submitted to the National Parks Service for listing, are placed on The National Register of Historic Places. The tricky part is getting past those bastards down at the SOHP. {Me shaking fist at screen} Damn you, SOHP!

I think some people confuse National Landmark Status with The National Register of Historic Places. A National Landmark would be a building or place that is significant to the nation on a cultural or historical level. It could be a battle field or building where an important event took place. The National Register of Historic Places is just a list of buildings and structures that largely only have significance at the local or state level.

Both lists are maintained by The National Park Service. They are in a way just an inventory which archives the architectural history of the Nation. There are currently about 80,000 places in The National Register of Historic Places, and of those, about 2,400 are considered National Landmarks.

The reason there are no restrictions placed on the current or future owners of homes placed on The National Register of Historic Places is because if there were, only nut jobs like me would ever place their home on The Register. It would defeat the whole purpose of The Register. If individual property rights weren’t insured, then The Register would be all but empty.

It is only really when you get down to a local level that cities can place restrictions on structures deemed historically significant, and that has nothing to do with The National Register of Historic Places. It is really no different than the city preventing me from turning my house in to a 24-hour tire shop or strip club. This is what cities do. They create ordinances so that it makes it easier for us to co-exist. If anyone could do anything they wanted with their private property in the city limits the place would be chaos. As far as city ordinances go, preservation ordinances are some of the most benign and benefit the city in the long run. My house could be listed at a National and State level and still not be listed at a City level. These are all separate things.

Even then, if I’m listed locally in my own city, any restrictions are only placed on the facade that faces the street. The level of ignorance about this is astounding. Just tune in to a City Council meeting when they are discussing local preservation ordinances and you will see what appear to be otherwise intelligent people lose the ability to read and understand simple language that spells out the ordinance. For the last time people, NO ONE CARES WHAT COLOR YOU PAINT YOUR BATHROOM!

My own house, which is on the Local Register of Historic Places has very few restrictions placed on it. Only changes I make to the front facade that faces the street has any restrictions on it, and even that has nothing to do with paint color. It pretty much only has to do with windows, porches, and siding. That’s pretty much it. These ordinances are only designed to maintain the historical look and feel of the home as it is seen from the street. Your house, when listed locally, can be little more than a Disney Land façade on Main St. As for the rest of it: Go Hog Wild and butcher your place as you please. Right now, if I wanted to, I could gut the inside, build a giant pink pyramid in here, sit under it naked, and eat dog poop. No one cares.

Hey, maybe that will be my next project.

Hmmmm, eating dog poop under a pyramid. Grrrrllll

Friday, December 28, 2007

Home Invasion

The whole experience has been a nightmare. I’m just so glad its all over. Over for now, anyway. I feel vulnerable now. Like it could happen again at any minute. I feel I need to change my habits to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. It is hard to be myself in my own kitchen now.

When I saw the first 2 I killed them right out. Then I saw more coming in, and more, and more. They were like an invading army laying siege to my kitchen. Soon there were thousands and no matter how fast I slaughtered them, I couldn’t keep up. This was a massacre of Biblical Proportions and it wasn’t enough.

The recycling bin was attacked first. There was a trail of them an inch thick that lead from an empty can of soup I neglected to rinse out. The trail went down the side of the bin, out the door of the kitchen, in to the butler’s pantry, and down through a small crack at the base of one of the plinth blocks.

I killed as many I could before emptying the recycling bin and the garbage can, and then swept out the closet under the stairs. Even after all of that, it took them another 12 hours to realize there was no more sustenance waiting for them in there. Several times that day I killed as many as I could and still they came like so much fodder for my broom.

After the Battle of the Recycling Bin they laid siege to the sink. Again I killed them by the thousands and again they continued to attack in hordes. They were relentless. After I cleaned everything out of the sink that I thought they were after, they then turned their attention to the faucet. For the next two days, every time I tried to drink some water my glass was filled with their squirming bodies. I think some are trying to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. I think they are trying to poison my water supply with their dead bodies in an attempt to get rid of me once and for all. Maybe they’re not just mindless drones after all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Builder's Name

Its funny how things come together sometimes. It is rare, I think, that you stumble on to a treasure trove of information about the history of your house, or the first owners. More often than not it is a long process that takes years, with little tidbits sometimes revealing themselves when you least expect it. Just recently another piece of the puzzle came together.

The local paper has a monthly insert called Restore & Preserver. It is about local architecture, and several years ago they did a write-up on my house. The most recent issue had an article on the other Petch House in town. While I was researching my house I found that the Petch family first lived at 1025 J Street.

I had an opportunity to speak with the current owner once. He is a very nice man, and he is doing a very nice restoration of the house, but knew nothing of the Petch family's time in the house. Not too surprising really. No matter, it is still fun to talk about old houses and local architecture. There are other houses in town, that while they have no connection to the Petch family, they do have connection to The Petch House, in architectual terms anyway.

The house above on Hillsdale has an almost identical window to The Petch House. It is a fairly unique design, so it has always seemed that there must be some connection to my house, but I could never prove it. It could be the same architect or the same builder. If nothing else, surely the window came out of the same mill.

This other house above, which is considered the sister house to the Hillsdale house, also has the same front window. This house was a full two stories at one time, but caught fire and was rebuilt as a story and a half. I’ve been told that at one time it was identical to the Hillsdale house.

The Green Book, a local inventory of historical structures in town, credits these two homes as being built by a man named Mowry. My house, even though it has the same front window, has no builder or architect credited to it in The Green Book. In fact, the book goes as far as to say that my front window is a later addition. Gasp! The Nerve!

I’m not exactly sure where this idea came from that my window is a later addition. Obviously it is a mistake. The only thing that can possibly explain this mistake is that my house was covered in asbestos siding at the time The Green Book was compiled back in the 1970s. Regardless, this obvious mistake in the book has become a bit of a running joke among my friends here in town.

Download in the Play Store
So anyway, back to Restore & Preserve. I was excited to see the other Petch House on J street getting a write-up in the paper. It is a very nice little Eastlake cottage, and it too was once covered with asbestos siding. The current owner – it was his dad who covered the house in asbestos back in the 40s – has been doing a faithful restoration of the exterior for about 20 years. The house looks great.

The article went on to talk about Mr. Eugene Mowery, builder and architect of the J street house. It said that in 1884 he and a partner owned a mill at the corner of 3rd & B streets that turned out lots of gingerbread, fancy doors, and sash. It also said that he was a builder and architect and built several prominent structures in town. Not only did he build the house on J street, the Hillsdale house, and the 2nd street house, but he also built and lived in the house at 135 J St, right next door to the first Petch House at 1025 J St. In fact, he built his house first and then built the house next door as a rental. And guess who he rented it too? That’s right, the young and growing Petch Faimily!

So in the late 1880s we have The Petch Family living at 1025 J street. Right next door is his neighbor, landlord, close personal friend, and prominnet local builder and architect, Mr. Mowery. In 1895, 2 years after the Mr. Mowery builds the Hillsdale house, The Petch House gets built on M street with a nearly identical window.

Well, a blind man could connect the dots at this point. Not only did Mr. Mowery build The Petch house, but all of the millwork most certianly came out of Mr. Mowery’s mill at the corner of 3rd & B streets.

It is just one more tiny piece of the puzzle, but I find it all very fascinating.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Spectacular…

Yes, that’s right, more spectacular than you can possibly imagine. Last night was the big dinner party at The Carson Mansion (You’ll notice I no longer jokingly refer to it as a shack). For me this was like going to church.

First, as you get closer to the house, you are struck by the scale of it. I think the copious amounts of gingerbread on the house makes it look smaller than it actually is, when viewed from far away. It tends to look like a doll house, and not quite real. In the picture above, each of those discs on the large brackets are probably about 8-inches in diameter.

In this other picture, on the sunburst detail at the far end, each of those rays is probably 1 and a half times the diameter of a baseball bat. And the scale continues inside the house as well. Door casing looks to be milled out of 2X8 lumber. Everything is meaty, over-sized, and over stated.

I learned from Ron, our host for the night, that the light wood in the foyer and right parlor is South American Mahogany. The left parlor is done entirely in redwood, and I think the dining room is oak. There are two columns at the far end of the left parlor that are milled out of the finest burl redwood I’ve ever seen. Each turned column must be close to a foot thick. Every where you look small sections of columns and panels are intricately carved with flowers and vines. It is just stunning.

The fireplace above is in the left parlor. That is an onyx mantle with redwood surround. The chimney flew splits in the wall and goes on either side of the stained glass window. The relief cravings around the mantel are stunning and all done in redwood, which would seem to indicate that all of the work was done on-site and not ordered from back east.

Opposite this fireplace, the entrance to the room has incredible wood work with carved egrets above the door. The wall coverings are the original silk wall coverings from the 1880s. They sit off the plaster walls by an inch or so.

Download in the Play Store
The right side parlor is where we had cocktails and hourdevours. Ron said that the people who did the restoration on the room painstakingly stripped the paint off the plaster cornice to reveal the true colors. The bright yellows, blues, and reds are true to the period, believe it or not. Some questioned the choice of these colors, but it just so happens the colors are identical to the colors in the two statuettes on the mantle, which are original to the room.

In the parlor above, notice the stained glass panels above the large, double-hung sash windows at the far end of the room. Almost every single exterior window in the house has some stained glass aspect to it.

Almost all are done in this same random, geometric pattern, with thick balls and diamonds that sit proud of the rest of the glass. Many have the painted panels in them. There must be several dozen of them through out the house.

Of course, some of the stained glass work is more impressive than other glasswork in the house.

Naturally, we were served dinner in the dinning room. I sat at the far end on the left. The ceiling in this room is gold. I don’t mean gold color, I mean gold. Flakes of gold suspended in paint and applied to the ceiling. That is the man himself, William Carson, in the photo on the wall at the right.

Three words: Third Floor Ballroom. I've some how managed to live with out one. I mean, if you can call that living.

Upstairs, it just goes on and on. And its not just the opulence that blows you away, it is the level of craftsmanship. And it is just all so unique. Every place you look you notice little details and elements where they just thought of everything. Surprisingly, it is only a 3 bedroom house and very few bathrooms. Of course, you had to leave room for the THIRD FLOOR BALLROOM!!!

The ballroom has what must be soaring 25 foot ceilings with a large skylight at the top. And of course, no mansion would be complete without a billiard room and an elevator. The billiard table is original to the house.

And to top it all off - literally - there is the forth floor tower. Spectacular barely scratches the surface. The tower has 8 large single-hung sash windows that roll up in to the ceiling. And of course, each sash is topped with a stained glass panel, any one of which would be the highlight all by itself in any other home in the city.

And if you can draw you eyes away from the house, the view from the tower is the best in the city. What a night. Thanks Ron!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rip, Burn, Skin

It sounds painful, doesn’t it? Given that this is a house blog one would naturally think I’m writing this from the emergency room, or maybe even a hospital bed. No, this the lingo of media files on computers. Its like they got a bunch of stoned snowboarders to come up with the lexicon of media when it comes to computers.

You no longer download and copy files, you rip and burn them. You don’t change the look and feel of a program, you put a new skin on it. This is the same reason we no longer wear stocking caps, but instead we wear skull caps. Its like, totally rad, to give mundane objects and tasks names that sound menacing and intense. It gives the allure of danger while sitting in the comfort of Mom and Dad’s basement.

So I pent my Sunday ripping CDs on to the Media Vault. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I pictured countless hours of selecting files, navigating through folders, copy files, er… I mean burning files. Then I would need to rename them all to make them legible, and make sure the player knew where they were. I thought I was going to be a painfully arduous task and I was dreading it.

It turned out to just about the easiest thing I’ve done on a computer in a long, long time. Someone actually did not have their head up their ass when they thought this through. I used Windows Media Player 11 to do the cop… Ripping. Once I told the Media Player that I would be storing the CD files, er…daggers of music, the process was surprisingly automated.

It turns out there is a lot more information on the CD than just the music. There is an image of the CD cover, the genre of music, artists name, song name, the year it was recorded, and the total running time for each song. Once the CD was ripped, the tray opened and I just popped in another one. I barely had to pay attention to it. I was able to blast through more than 50 CDs while watching football on Sunday.

The CD s are also rated as they are ripped. I’m not really sure what the rating is based on. They all started out with 3 out of 5 stars with the exception of one Velvet Underground CD that has a rating of 4.5. At least who ever rated that one knows what they are talking about.

Once they’ve all been ripped to the media vault they can be viewed by just the CD cover, or viewed with the song list for each CD. You can sort alphabetically, or by genre, time, rating, or year.

To play, uh, I mean BLAST the CDs you just double click on a CD cover or individual song. You can also open a play list and drag and drop songs from multiple CDs to the play list. Play lists can be saved and played again. The whole process was surprisingly simple….er, I mean totally wicked and awesome.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kingdom of Media

I got the HP Media Vault in the mail about a week ago. I’m not going to say it is the best thing to ever happen to home networking, but I will say it is easy to set up and use, it does what the advertising claimed, and it didn’t cost much.

So far so good.

For those not familiar with it, The Media Vault is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. If you have DSL then you most likely have a router. The media vault plugs in to the router and gives you a way to share files with any other computer plugged in to the router. The idea is to store all music, video, and photo files on the vault and then be able to access them from any PC in the house.

The unit was $214 delivered to my door. It is about 4-inches wide and stands a little under a foot tall. It looks like a very small computer. You plug in the power, then plug in a network cable from the router, and then turn it on. That is the extent of the set up. There is software to install for some bells and whistles, but the software is not necessary to use the device. It has a web interface for tweaking the settings, but there are very few to tweak and the web interface is simple and easy to use.

Tech Lingo Alert
It can also act as a web server and FTP server. This means that you can set up a web page for the house, or configure it to be able to allow you to access files from a computer outside the house. Individual folders can be password protected and the web interface for settings can be password protected. All folders are blind shares by default.

You create folders on the device either through the web interface or with My Computer, and access them by mapping network drives, just like any other network. You really don’t need to know how to do this because the software that comes with it does this for you. When I first set it up I tried to access it from my laptop, which has a bad CD Drive in it. I was not able to install the software and the 4 default folders are set up as blind shares, so I couldn’t see them to be able to map them. Instead, I pointed my browser to HTTP:\\HPMediavault and after that I knew the folder names, so I could just map to \\hpmediavault\foldername\.

Expanding the storage is done through a pull-out tray on the front panel. Any internal, 3.5-inch SATA drive can be put in to the tray to add more hard drive space if you need it. It is not a USB type set up, but a real hard drive installation, only made simpler. No opening the case. It does have 3 USP ports on it and it can act as a print server by plugging any printer in to one of the three ports. Again, very simple to do.

The one potentially bad thing is that the OS is a stripped down Linux kernel that is proprietary to the media vault. If there are hard drive problems there are no tools available to try and salvage some of the data. Any failure is absolute failure. The up side of this is that the kernel is built for speed. It does nothing but file I/O.
End Tech Lingo

It has 300 gigabytes of storage, which is enough for a lot of videos and music. One full-length movie runs about 1 gigabyte in size. The device came with The Bourne Identity preinstalled, which was supplied by CinemaNow.Com, a movie download site. It also came with an offer to download two more movies from CinemaNow.Com. At CinemaNow.Com you can buy or rent movies. The prices run $2-$5 for renting and $5-$20 for buying. It seems like an OK service, although the selection seemed a bit limited. I first tried to find the movie Children of Men, which came out last summer, and it wasn’t available. A few other movies that have come out in the past few years weren’t on the site either. I ended up getting Crash and Kingdom Of Heaven.

The movies play beautifully off the media vault. I watched them on a 20-inch flat panel monitor, with external speakers and a small sub woofer. The picture and sound are very nice. You forget that you’re watching the movie off a computer. The next step will be to get the movie to output to the TV. That will happen next month.

All in all, I’m very happy with it. It seems to accomplish a lot of what I wanted, without having to fool with a full-blown networking server. I still may play around with that idea, but for now, this will go a long way to getting my home network up and running, and it is extremely easy to set up and use.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Carson Zoom In

I was being lazy and bored today so I downloaded some of the high resolution B&W photos of the Carson Shack from 1960. I zoomed in on some of the detail and cropped a few of the highlights. Enjoy!

I think I need to stop looking at these photos. My house looks so plain and boxy to me now.

Useless Below 40

The afternoon temps get in to the low 50s, but overnight it drops in to the 30s. The house seems to stay right at about 40 with no heat running. I only keep a few rooms heated, so most of the house is like a meat locker several months out of the year.

I really need to do some winterizing, but it is just too damn cold to work. How’s that for irony. Several of the double hung windows upstairs have the top sash open a few inches. I push them up and put a wedge in there, but eventually, with the high winds, the windows rattle and the wedge falls out and the sash drops again. Some of these rooms I go in to so infrequently, that weeks can go by before I notice. This is one reason why I don’t heat any of those rooms. Well, that, and the fact that I have no real heating system to speak of.

The other problem is the stairs that lead to the third floor/attic. They are wide open and there is no door. There is also no framing for a door. Back in the 1920s they took what was mostly likely a 32-inch doorway and doubled the width. They then lopped off the bottom 2 steps to the stairs that lead to the attic and boarded over the entrance. This became a closet for one of the apartments.

I was never really sure why they did this. Ok, I can kind of understand removing the bottom steps to make it look more like a closet, but why widen the entrance. Closest with single doors are the norm. It was an odd choice. The only thought is that it became an alcove for an armoire or something. This was the early 20s, so closets in every bedroom were still kind a novel idea.

I rebuilt the stairs years ago, because I needed access to the third floor, but I never reframed or hung a proper door to close off the stairs. Any heat that makes its way up stairs is sucked up those stairs like a chimney drawing smoke. I had hoped to fix this problem, and get the attic insulted this summer, but the whole bathroom thing took a lot longer than I thought. And then I started the new job, and all. It just never happened.

So now its winter again and its going to be another cold one at the old Petch House. If I could get motivated I would fix the door and insulate the attic, but I just can’t seem to. I don’t like working in the cold. For more irony, if I did start to do the work I would most likely warm up. Hauling tools and lumber up and down the stairs is a good way to warm up a body. Of course, sitting in the front parlor with the doors closed, and watching football with the heater running is another way to warm up a body.

Maybe I’ll get to it this spring.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Feak Out...Far Out...

In a Moon Age Day Dream....

It kind of reminds me of The Carson Shack. Both are extremes of their style. I just love them both. Oh, to be in London in 1973 or Eureka in 1889...Sigh!

Keep your 'lectric eye on me babe...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas At The Carson Shack

Some years it seems like there is a party to go to every other night of the week during the 2 weeks preceding Christmas, and other years it is just one or two. If the truth be told, I’m not much of a party person. I enjoy smaller gatherings. Still, it is nice to join the crowd now and then. So far, I will only be attending just two Christmas parties this year. Whew!

One party will be at The Carson Shack just down the street from me. I found these photos on-line a few days ago. The photo above is from 1902, but the interior shots below are 1960. The place still looks pretty much just like the pictures. These are from Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress.

I’ve posted shots of this place before, but I never get tired of looking at it. This is the first time for some interior shots. At the highest resolution a single photo is a 17MB download.

Monday, December 03, 2007

So This Is How It Is

I’ve changed my mind again. Can you believe it? I know, it’s a shocker.

Anyway, I’ve decided to put off the ClarkConnect server for now. I will be doing it, but I’ll wait until I’m further along in the process. I think I can do most of what I want with the HP Media Vault (See earlier post). As I’ve come to learn, the Media Vault falls in to a category of products referred to as NAS, or Network Attached Storage.

They are basically mini-file servers that are tuned to just serving files on a network. They can be plugged in to a router (This could be a DSL or cable modem/router) and serve media files to any other PC on the router. At least this is my understanding. We’ll see if I understand this correctly sometime next week when I get it.

If I’m wrong, and I really do need the server to use the media vault, well, I was planning to do that anyway, and the media vault is only $214.00 with shipping and taxes. That is a pretty amazing price, if you ask me.

So, lets say I have a PC in the parlor hooked up to the TV, and some external speakers. I can stream video to the TV and music to the speakers off the media vault. I should then also be able to surf the web from the same PC. In theory this should work. I could be wrong about this, and we’ll just need to wait and see.

The server would give me additional benefits, such as act as a web and email server. You can set up user accounts, and just manage the whole system better. The dream is to one day stop paying money each month to another company to host my web site. With a server running ClarkConnect, I could do that myself.

The draw back to this is that if I have other PCs in the house I could use them all for email but I would need to make sure one PC is dedicated to downloading mail to an inbox on the PC. If I have three PCs all downloading mail, it would get confusing. This is where the server would come in handy. What I will need to do is set other PCs to leave a copy of the mail on the server and have one download the mail and delete the mail from the server.

I realize, that to the non-tech person reading this, it all may seem a bit much, and frankly, I agree. This gets back to my very first post on this subject. It is just all too complicated. Once it is set up and running, it needs little maintenance. The issue is setting it all up and trouble shooting it in the event that something goes wrong.

Someday, someone is going to come up with a box that you have on a wall in the garage. You plug in a phone line and a cable TV line and then you run a single cable to any number of smart devices in the house. You turn them on and identify yourself by either a thumb print or voice recognition and then you have access to TV/video/music/internet/phone and what ever else comes along. It someday needs to get to that point, because this is no way to live. One hundred years from now someone is going to stumble on to these series of blog entries and think, “Wow! What savages!”

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I’m All Over The Place On This One

It seems like I’ve fallen in to a tech world black hole of acronyms and emerging technology. The more I read, it seems like just about everyone out there is either doing some form of what I’m trying to do, or trying to sell something that will do it. There is just soooo much to chose from out there, it is a little bewildering.

This is a quote from one forum threads I read, and this is one of the better written ones…

"I've been doing this exact same thing for a while now with opensuse, but Ubuntu would work just fine as well. Just be sure to install SSH before you dump it in the closet

You can use samba to share files with windows and NFS to share files with linux. This is how I do it. For the streaming, you dont really need to stream the A/V, you can just use samba/NFS and play the files like they were local. If you really want to stream, you can use VLC, but I beleive you'll have to leave it running on a VNC session on the server.

For RAID, you can use linux software RAID. This is what I use and its worked great. I was confused at first with it because it RAIDs partitions rather than drives. So you have to make RAID partitons on the drives, and then create the array with whatever partitons you choose, and then create a filesystem on the array."

Two weeks ago I would have gotten very little of that, but now a lot of it makes sense. The one thing I am almost entirely sure of now, though, is that I will be doing a Linux based file server for the home. I’ve drifted away from that idea a few times over the past few weeks. Why, just Thursday I envisioned a house filled with Ipod enabled devices. I could just carry around a 30 gb Ipod with music and video on it and plug it in where ever I was. That idea quickly died a few hours later.

I’m not entirely sure on the cost yet, but it seems that I can have a robust file server, with plenty of storage, and with all of the routers and cabling for the entire house, for around a $1000. This would enable internet, TV, video, and music to the 6 rooms that will have cable running to them, and to a lesser extent, the entire house with some wireless additions. It may sound like a lot to some, but really its not. This should be suitable to do what I want to do for several years. I would imagine that once the infrastructure is in place, there would need to be minor upgrades every 5 to 10 years.

Of course, this is just the supply side of it. Even though the rooms would be enabled, there would be additional cost (TV, computer, etc) that would be needed in the individual rooms. I’m not really concerned with that at this point, because most of the rooms in the house aren’t at that stage yet. Really, just the parlor, kitchen, and one bedroom are there. You need to think of this part of the project as more of an infrastructure part, like electrical wiring and plumbing, rather than the end user stage.

I have found some more cool devices to think about. Most of the content below is marketing copy directly from the product site. This is not me endorsing it.

HP Media Vault mv2010 (300GB) - $199
* • Expandable home network storage for data backup and sharing
* • 300GB—holds up to 139,000 photos, 69,000 songs, or 90 hours of video in best mode
* • Media streaming to home entertainment center
* • Supports up to three printers
* • Automatic backups 24 x 7

Seagate® Mirra™ Personal Server – Price Unknown
The Mirra Personal Server lets you:

* Access—Retrieve digital content via the Internet any time.
* Share—Share files with anyone simply and securely.
* Sync—Sync content automatically between networked computers.
* Protect—Continuous data protection for networked Macintosh and Windows computers.
* Enjoy—Connect to your content from wherever you are.

Video Lan – Free

VLC media player (initially VideoLAN Client) is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG, DivX, Ogg, and many more) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. However in recent years it has also become a extremely powerful server to stream live and on demand video in several formats to our network and the Internet.

It started as a student project at the French École Centrale, Paris but is now a worldwide project with developers from 20 countries. (more).

VLC is built in a modular way. This means that you can choose from a range of different modules to decide how to control VLC and how to display the video output.

ATI TV Wonder™ 650 Combo PCI Express –$120

This is another TV Tuner card for the PC. From what I’ve read about the few PC/TV tuners, most are not really good enough to replace a TV. This one has promise though. This is the most recent review I could find. This card also has 2 tuners on it, so you can watch one and record off the other.

ATI Wonder 650 Review

Twonky Media – $40

The PacketVideo MediaServer enables you to share your multimedia throughout your home. It is available for many different platforms and interworks with a large variety of client devices including XBox 360™, Sony PS3™ and Sony PSP™. TwonkyMedia requires fewer resources and is faster than other UPnP media servers, and provides more features that help users enjoy large media collections. If you care about usability, TwonkyMedia is the right choice. It even enables you to define your own personal navigation structure. Whether you are an end user or a device manufacturer - we have the right license model for you.

So much to chose from….