Odds & Ends

A few wrap-up items; I am probably not going to be posting for a little while now (heading out on a trip--see below).
  • I have been making good progress on the exposure test hut work. All of the walls are instrumented & insulated, and the wires are run back to the data collection location. Although we were supposed to have been giving the client data as of a week ago, the rest of my group doesn't seem to consider this job to be an incredibly high priority, considering I'm the only one working on it most of the time. Personally, I find it offensive when we fail to meet deadlines that we have set ourselves. It means that either (1) we fucked up planning/scheduling/resource allocation, or (2) we failed to execute. Either way, it reflects badly. Nobody seems to share that opinion, though.
  • On a more relaxed note, I had a very nice evening having dinner with Dan Brown (fellow survivor of the 'tute, now a prof here) and his sweetie/S.O./whatever, Daniel, over at their house (just a 20 minute walk away). It was very nice to realize that my social circle is not as insanely limited as I have often made it out to be. Pho with duck and spring rolls--yummy! I really need to explore some more of the Asian markets around Kitchener. I also got to hang out and indulge in some building geekery (energy efficiency recommendations, etc).
  • If we want to talk about rare events, I took out the trash yesterday. That was 64 days of accumulation (I have a photo of the last time). Let's hear it again for composting and recycling (and throwing out stinky trash as soon as it is generated)!

  • This country is wacky. As I was crossing the street, there was a car that was partially in the crosswalk. The driver actually apologized to me. And it wasn't some little old lady--it was some twentysomething guy driving a Mitsubishi sedan. Madness, I tell you, madness!
  • I am heading to Boston tomorrow; the ostensible reason is "Summer camp", or the Westford Symposium: it's a conference and party that my former boss/mentor has been putting on every year since 1997. It's 3 days of building geekery conference, followed by evening barbecues at his house and back yard. It's grown to a party of about 200 people nowadays; I can objectively say that it is the social/meeting event in our little industry. The festivities have grown enough that we have a walk-in beer cooler (built out of materials contributed from building material manufacturers), and a barbecue imported from Texas that could sleep 3. So that will take up my time from Saturday (July 30th) through probably Thursday (August 4). However...
  • I'm visiting Boston! Woo hoo! I hope I'll catch as many of you as possible on this visit; I'm leaving August 9 (Tuesday). I believe there's a plan for Dim Sum in Chinatown on Sunday (August 7).


Serious power tools

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are doing a major job at our test exposure hut, replacing six walls with new ones. Unfortunately, the demolition was made more difficult by the fact that one of them is made out of this block known as Durisol--it's about a foot thick, with exteriors made of this wood-cement mixture (think of wood granola), and the cores is filled with steel-reinforced concrete. My advisor has a close relationship with this manufacturer; he is building his new home out of this stuff.

This family of construction (known as ICF, or insulated concrete form) is touted for having excellent airtightness, thermal mass, and strength. Have to say all of those facts are true, and I like the system... but it doesn't make it the be-all and end-all of construction. Incidentally, Army research found that ICFs are very resistant to truck bombs--I guess it's like building a concrete building, and then wrapping it with a bike helmet for protection. Which might provide some indication of how hard it is to take down.

So back to the demolition at the hut. We got the grounds crew to knock the 4'x8' wall out with a front end loader, but we needed to break it up to get it into a dumpster. Fortunately, the school has resources like a Bosch breaker hammer (electric powered), and a gas powered cutoff saw.

Man... it's fun to use this thing. Even if it is a beast, and I'm hauling 60 lbs above my center of mass when starting it. For some reason, while breaking up the wall, I felt this sudden urge to whistle at random women passing by.


More technical difficulties

My laptop computer has died. Again (see below). Fortunately, like most geeks I know, I have a desktop machine as well as the laptop. And fortunately, unlike most geeks I know, I do a pretty decent job of keeping backups current.

I've owned this laptop (Fujitsu E7010) for over three years; I had another Fujitsu before that, and I've been happy with both. However, right during crunch time this past fall semester, the machine stopped working (did not boot up/show BIOS screen). The repair shop told me it needed a new system board (a.k.a. mainboard or motherboard)--$800 parts, plus ~$100 labor. Ouch. Got it fixed, because I needed my machine up and running ASAP, and because I've been pretty happy with the machine in the past.

Then last week, it had the same failure to start up, and the repair shop told me it was another dead system board. There is only a three month warranty on the part, and it's eight months out. Bastards.

Since it's summer, I don't need a laptop right away. Therefore, I'm writing up a complaint letter to Fujitsu, asking them to either replace the system board for a nominal fee or discount a new machine. I've been recommending Fujitsus to friends and colleagues; I'm trying to use this fact as leverage in my letter. Not sure if I'm going to get anything out of it or not. So watch this space in the next month or two for either a 'Fujitsu sucks and you should never buy one' rant, or a 'Fujitsu's customer service rocks--I still like them.' post.

If customer service tells me to piss off, any recommendations for a new machine? Also, I'm starting to think that extended warranties are a pretty good piece of insurance, given potential costs of laptop repairs.


Bats' Rules of Machines

There are two rules that I formulated while an undergrad, dealing with mechanical repairs, care of machines, and the use of force in dealing with machines. They were (1) if it makes you happy, make it happy (i.e., if it is a good reliable tool/machine, take care of it.) (2) if it makes you unhappy, make it unhappy (i.e., if it is being a punkass bitch, pound the hell out of it). This might be considered an example of the latter.

The tailgate latch on my car stopped working on my last trip to Boston. It had been giving me problems for over a year (handle stuck in one position or another; wouldn't latch), but I could baby it along. However, a bunch of other people used it this trip, and it finally gave up the ghost. Since there is no interior handle, I had to load and unload my station wagon via the back doors since then.

I decided it was high time to do some repairs. The first few attempts were abject failures: trying to jimmy open the latch with a screwdriver from the inside (didn't give), and unscrewing the striker plate from the car body frame (the piece at the bottom of the dotted line in the diagram below; no room to unbolt it).

After carefully studying the Chilton's diagram, and weighing my options, I decided: "Fuck it. I'm going to drive this car until it dies, and I want a trunk that friggin works." So the cordless drill and bit came out to the car, and I started drilling access holes through the interior plastic body panel, trying to find the handle rod (thing coming down from the handle).

It took a few tries, but the orthoscopic automotive surgery was successful. And I now have a set of needlenose locking pliers as a trunk handle!

Okay, I'm going to buy the repair part and fix it for real sooner or later. I need my pliers back.

UPDATE: Bought the replacement handle and installed it (7/20). I now have a station wagon with a working rear hatch. Feels rather novel.

Chow Yun Dork

I've been working pretty hard at the group's test lab/wall exposure hut; we are putting in a new set of six walls, which is a serious undertaking. Unfortunately, I've been working on it pretty much solo for the past week (including the weekend).

While working with two tools at once (DeWalt cordless drill and Makita cordless impact driver), I couldn't resist the self-portrait opportunity. Probably the result of spending too much time working by myself.

Note that I am again wearing the birth control device safety glasses, as mentioned in this earlier post.

Track marks

Man... people are really going to start catching on to my heroin habit soon... I guess I need to start injecting between my toes...

Actually, I had blood drawn for a cholesterol test a few days ago. I don't think I've had a needle stick go this wrong in a while--and this is coming from somebody who gets his blood drawn regularly for cholesterol work, and has gotten his Red Cross blood donor gallon pin. Doesn't hurt... just looks nasty.


Oh, not another gross dental post...

Yeah, more invasive oral surgery for me! Woot!

I had a dental implant put in, to replace the rear lower left molar that was extracted about two months ago. The bone has filled in nicely, so it was ready for drilling and further abuse. I was actually genuinely nervous about this procedure--not due to the pain, but because in a previous exam, the dentist pointed out that my inferior alveolar nerve canal ran pretty high up in my jaw--it's the nerve that transmits sensation to the tongue, lip, and jaw. Loss of sensation (temporary or permanant) from damage to the nerve is known as paresthesia. (Incidentally, Sylvester Stallone's expression and speech are a result of similar nerve damage from a birth complication. I really don't want to look or sound like Stallone).

Based on a previous panoramic x-ray, the dentist figured out what size implant would give a safe margin. Also, I printed a PDF of a dental journal article on nerve damage due to implants, so the dentist and I talked through the procedure: he has figured out that I'm a total geek on any subject that grabs my interest, so he didn't mind the discussion.

The implant technology is pretty damn cool--you drill a hole and thread in a specialized titanium pin with a surface made specifically for osseointegration. In order to so this, you need to cut through the gum and stitch it up at completion. It ended up going very smoothly. The result is a temporary cover (the round black dot, below), until the jawbone heals (a few months). Then, a crown will be attached to the implant. Neat stuff. Right now, it's a bit sore (treating with Advil), and I need to keep the stitched up area cleaned out, but the pain is not as bad as I was expecting, considering somebody just drilled a friggin hole in my jaw and drove a goddamn screw into it.

Implant Posted by Picasa


Happy Canada Day, Eh!

In case my US readers do not know about this holiday, Canada Day (formerly known as Dominion Day) is Canada's national holiday, celebrated on July 1st. It seems to be an occasion for a summer long weekend; I spent this one up at Chief Grad Student's family's cottage (four of us), up near Sharbot Lake (see this earlier post for when we visisted in the fall).

Surprisingly, nobody from the family had gone up to the cottage yet to start it up, so we were tasked with putting in the floating dock (taken out in the winter to prevent ice damage) and turning on the water.

Turning on the water was a task by itself... we went down into the crawl space, turned on the well pump, flushed sediment out of the system, and then connected water to the house. This was followed by water blowing out of a broken fitting that had apparently frozen over the winter in an undrained pipe. Due to a lack of isolation valves, this break kept us from having any running water at the cottage. So CGS and I had to spend several hours in the crawl space with flashlights and a propane torch, removing and resoldering the broken fitting. A pain in the butt, but kinda fun in that 'this is an urgent job that needs to get done'/submarine movie way. We rewarded ourselves with beer and a lovely grilled salmon.

Weather was perfect up this weekend--cool enough at night that you could open up the windows and use the covers. Beautiful sunny weather for putting the dock in.

Of course, there was time for fun activities between these jobs--sitting on the porch reading, swimming in the lake, playing a Scrabble-like game (UpWords). I have to say that I must have truly angered the letter gods at some point:

As another piece of cultural knowledge that I'm sure my US friends don't know, there are these Inuit stone monuments that are pretty common around Canada called Inukshuks: they are roughly person-shaped stacked stones, meant as trail markers, but with some deeper significance: see Wikipedia's entry if you're curious. Anyway, they have one at the cottage; I thought he needed some temporary decoration.
The drive there and back were pretty unpleasant--serious traffic in both directions; we got back at 3 AM last night. That's what we get for driving on a holiday weekend.