From one house to another

Last year after being a homeowner for 7 years, I paid $5,000 to let the house go. Being a homeowner for that time had its ups and downs. On the downside, I put a lot of money, time and effort into making the place wonderful, before having to pay money to get someone else to take it off my hands. I didn’t even get a chance to enjoy the deck I spent months building. I endured a lot of stress when a renter caused $10,000 worth of damage to it.

On the upside, I had a lot of fun times there. I had a lot of plans for the place (like putting in a hot tub) that will transfer to another house in my future.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a townhouse in Boulder in a much nicer area than my old house. I bought it primarily as an investment, but I would actually really like to live there! The previous owners made some really questionable interior design decisions like sponge-painting over the beautiful stained wooden doors and smearing what looks like poo on the downstairs walls. Some paint soon fixed that problem.

Goodbye Colorado

In September 2010, I left Colorado after ten years of living there. I moved to Mountain View in California to work for Google, a dream of mine always being to work at a tech company in Silicon Valley.

One of the last things I did before leaving Colorado was to finish my back garden. It was bittersweet, because a lot of weekends were spent getting it done, a lot of weeds were pulled, and a lot of money was spent – and after all was said and done, someone else is enjoying it. Not only that, but thanks to the rotten economy, the house isn’t exactly a big money earner in the rental department. Quite the opposite. I even took a week off to finish the deck, which I made by hand. It was certainly a learning experience.

Deck Completed – Finally.

I decided to take an entire week off work, but instead of doing the sensible thing and playing on the PS3 the entire time, I finished my deck. Now it’s done, I only have the rest of the back garden to worry about. Hmm.

Steps:

First railing done:

The best tool ever – nail gun:

Nail gun

The finished article – although the fascia and lattice still need to be attached:

Finished deck

Bird Cam

Usually when we go away on holiday, something happens with either the server (power supply fails, Comcast decides to knock it off the Internet) or the security cameras (transmissions mysteriously stop, etc). This holiday was no exception. I noticed after we landed that there appeared to be a large piece of tumbleweed completely blocking the lens. I thought it might have been put there deliberately – and I was right.

I give you exhibit A:

Bird on camera

It built a pretty good nest, but the camera mount couldn’t hold it up and eventually tilted downwards, at which point the bird gave up. There was a single blue egg inside, but sadly it never had a chance because there was a snow storm a couple of days after the bird finished the nest.

Home Security

Following on from my “boredom” post, here’s something that has been keeping me busy for a while. I have a home server called Frankenputer, and it runs a package called Zoneminder along with the web server.

Connected to it I have two black & white outdoor cameras (el cheapo $30 things from Harbor Freight) and one indoor colour wired ethernet camera. The outdoor cameras are connected via very long cables to individual video capture cards in the server. The problem I am having right now is that the picture quality at daytime is fairly noisy:

At night though, it’s plainly crap:

Zoneminder is also fairly terrible at motion detection, requiring a very clean image to work with, and very precise fiddling with “blob counts” and other non-intuitive variables. If I connect either of the cameras to a proper TV, there is absolutely no interference, leading me to believe that the interference is being generated inside the server. However, if I connect a closer source of video to the server (such as a VCR), the picture is also perfect! I think what is happening is that the long run of camera cable (100 feet) is causing the composite video voltage levels to drop, and interference in the server is becoming more noticeable. Any hints would be appreciated though.

I am wondering whether to retire Frankenputer and get a new motherboard, CPU and memory, or to get ethernet cameras all around. Here’s a snap from the ethernet camera:

Deck

For the last few weeks I’ve been building a deck. My “bible” is the Home Depot Decks 1-2-3 book, which does a fairly good job of explaining how to build a deck to someone with reasonable carpentry skills.

This is actually only my second carpentry project – the first being some shelves in the garage.

If there’s anything I have learned, it’s the following:

  1. Don’t be afraid to buy the right tools.
  2. You will need at least two drills (corded and cordless). You will need a cordless one for difficult areas, and a corded one for the screw that won’t go in or the hole that won’t appear.
  3. You always need more screws/nails.
  4. Measure twice, cut once.
  5. Your posts will try to sink to the centre of the earth. There is nothing you can do to stop it, so you may as well make the posts stick further out of the ground in anticipation.
  6. If you are British, get some SPF-50 and a hat.

Comcast Strikes Again

You know what really pisses me off? Comcast. Oh, you already know this, but I thought I’d share with you another reason why they piss me off:

Flood

Picture this: we are watching a movie, and this shows up on all channels (analogue and digital). You cannot switch off the digital receiver, and it stays on for five minutes. The TV programmes currently being watched are not paused, and recordings that are in process get gaps in them. A sharp tone is played at maximum volume, easily able to damage speakers that are turned up loud. The information is not localised in any way; the entire of Colorado sees the same message. It goes away, and then it comes back ten minutes later.

Fox occasionally issues “storm watches” to tell people that they may issue a “storm warning”, which is itself a notice that they may issue a “storm alert” at some point in the future. The annoying thing is that they play a very weird tone over the programme being watched and squash the programme into the top half of the screen so they can show these messages.

Yes, in a state prone to tornados and flash floods, this can be useful, but please localise the information. I wonder if they have ever read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.

PS. It’s not raining (yet).

Flood

We had a lot of rain in Colorado last week, and the ground on the left side of our house settled a bit. It was just enough to break the PVC sprinkler pipe off the end of the copper water supply pipe, and the whole side of our house (outside) flooded. It took two whole days to shift the stones from on top of the weed barrier sheet, pull up the sheet, dig down to fix the pipe, and then pack the soil down using dirt I obtained from the building site across the road. The ground had sunk 4-6 inches in total.

Fixed sprinkler pipe

No More Radon!

Earlier this year, we found we had an 18 pCi/l (pico Curies per litre) reading of radon in our house. The EPA recommended limit is 4 pCi/l. For those who don’t know, radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that comes from the ground and can increase the risk of getting lung cancer. A few weeks ago we had an extractor fan hooked up to the basement sump (like a moat going around the perimeter of the house for water to drain away). Here are the results:

Radon test results

Yay, no horrible slow death by cancer!