Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Optimism in January. In Maine.

I put stickers with my house number on the side of my mailbox today. 

Not so much to help people find the house as to help me identify the mailbox as mine when the snowbanks melt away.  It's kind of like tagging the webbed feet of migrating waterfowl.  Once the plow sends it flying, you might not see it again.  I've been playing with the idea of putting a shooting target on the mailbox as well, to make it a bit more fun for the plow drivers.

Speaking of melting away, we had a torrential downpour and unseasonably warm weather here the last two days.  Into the forties.  Our snowpile is half its former self, and we're down to the actual driveway instead of solid ice.  And to think that just this past Saturday I was contemplating getting a ladder and shoveling the snow off the roof to prevent the ice dams from getting too big.  Now the roof is clear.  Hooray!

Oh, and I found the nice square-head shovel the kids left on one corner of the driveway.  Henry's orange hat is still missing, but I know roughly where it is, by the shed.

Other sure signs it's warm in Maine in January: As I dropped off the eldest Toadroller for basketball practice today, the indoor track team was outside, jogging on the high school's entrance road in shorts and t-shirts.  Hey, if it's in the 30s, get your butt outside!  It won't be that warm again until late March.

I believe that it rains for the sole purpose of helping me identify the next leak to fix in my house.  We may have turned the corner in leakity-ville, though: this one was just dripping into the garage, not into living areas, drywall or wiring in order to leave behind a trail of mold.  I did have to clear my car out of the garage; rip down some rotten insulation; empty my toolbox, drying each tool by hand; and rescue my compound mitre-saw. 

Anyone want some slightly damp Home Depot crappy shelving?  Free.

I ended my mop-up duties by going outside to look around for the culprit.   The porch.  Of course.*  The water was coming into the garage where the porch attaches to the house because, well, the under-side of the porch is sealed plywood, yet above that, the floor of the porch, is typical decking.  You see, the roof of the porch leaks, which I can accept as it's external to the house.  The leaking water falls onto the decking of the porch and then becomes, as best I can tell, a little minnow-pool because of the aforementioned sealed plywood. 

"What the hell," I figured, "I'll enjoy ripping the whole thing down and leaving it unfinished this summer.  Good thing it's on the back."  I got my Makita drill and made some swiss cheese (meaning random) drainage holes in the until-recently-sealed-underside.  I felt like a drunk cowboy shooting my Makita into the air.  The results were eerily similar to my attempts to find a stud in order to hang a picture.  I eventually hit some of the right spots and it emptied out like a kid who'd been holding it the whole way through Spanish class.  Or like an interior latex paint-sack on a house renovation in Maine in February**: http://sanesanctuary.blogspot.com/2008/02/building-bathrooms-and-going-batty.html

Shit, I hate this house.

Take black mold, for instance.  It loves us.  Black mold cost us $7k or so to mitigate and sell our house in Colorado.  Black mold awaited us here in Maine, due largely to a local Master Craftsman's (I can't recommend him, really I can't, despite his services costing twice everyone else's) inability to properly vent or waterproof anything.  That Master Craftsmanship led to this: http://sanesanctuary.blogspot.com/2008/03/you-mean-i-was-right-about-something.html

We're still in re-construction of that renovation, and will be for the next year or so.  Our second parlor room is now affectionately referred to as "the mold room" and is serving time, unheated, as a storage room for all our crap until spring, when I'll rip out the drywall and insulation, kill the mold somehow, and turn it into my woodshop/base of operations for personally and slowly (time, skill, and money allowing) rennovating the downstairs of this house.

The icing on the mold-cake, though, was the discovery of mold IN OUR FRIGGIN' SELECT COMFORT BED!  You see, the foam layers apparently trap humidity and become a literal hotbed for mold growth.  Yes, there's a class-action law suit.  Yes, I could raise hell with Select Comfort's support lines, Rush Limbaugh, or any of the other mini-celebs advertising the air-bed nee moldy cheese factory and get it replaced.  But then I'd still have a crappy Select Comfort bed.  Quick two-word-review of the Select Comfort beds:  They suck.  So, mold in the bed and we've started up the musical beds, again, until we decide when and how to replace the Select Comfort (did I mention it isn't comfortable?) bed.   I know what the replacement mattress will be, and when we get commisions, bonuses, taxes and house-sale (not this house, which I've mentioned I hate) squared away, we'll get it.

I need to bleed the air out of my hot water heat piping. I'm not so sure that I know how to do that. I think I might have figured it out last winter when I finished the local plumbing and heating company's job for them after paying a good $13k for a half-assed, slow-assed job. I literally reverse-engineered the wiring to the relays governing the valves, re-wired the upstairs thermostat (correctly this time), and marked off which pipes went where and in what direction they were flowing. But now there's air in the system. When it kicks in for the upstairs, it sounds like a toilet flushing.

I still have half a tank of oil and it's late January.  I think I might get through this winter with one more fill up and then a topper in May or June.  I played the "pre-buy" sweepstakes fairly well; I'm probably $100 ahead of the game, but that doesn't mean much when the winter's bill is in the $2k range.

Optimism.  January.  Maine.  If you don't have it, you'd better move.  Before you hurt someone.

That or sing carols as you take down the Christmas tree.  I hope we get to that this weekend.

* It wan't just the porch.  Of course.  Water was coming in through the wiring and piping for the alarm system some bright spark put into the house.  Now, given that this was Samantha Smith's (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samantha_Smith  ) childhood house, down to the Holly Hobby wallpaper in her former bedroom, maybe a security system was to ward off the KGB or the CIA.  We didn't find any cold-war era bugs in the walss during the renovation...  Otherwise I'm at a loss for why anyone would set up an alarm system in house in a small town in a state where most people leave the keys in the ignition while they go grocery shopping.  

** That's right, if you survive January, you have all of February to look forward to***.  There's a reason it's the shortest month of the year.  It's kinda like Select Comfort beds.  A three-word review of February in Maine:  It sucks too.

*** Two word review of March in Maine:  Mostly sucks.  Now, don't get me wrong; I'm serious when I say this piece is optimistic.  It's just that five months of the year in Maine can be dedicated to cold, one month to mud, two to bugs, leaving us three or four nice months depending on the local side effects of global warming.  Or rain.  Shit, I forgot the two rain months, summer**** and October.  Maine sucks.  Why are we here?

**** Yes, I know, footnotes to footnotes to footnotes.  I also know that summer is not a month.  The point is, one random month of summer (maybe two, like we had in 2009!) can be set aside for rain in Maine, which falls mainly on my house, which should more accurately be labeled a drain.

Friday, January 22, 2010

As easy as 1, 2, 9!

I travel on business quite often and, therefore, have to submit expense reports.

My company has transitioned from a process of filling in an expense report system and mailing in your receipts in pre-paid-postage envelopes with your receipts neatly taped (not stapled, no!) onto sheets of paper to a process of filling in an expense report system and then scanning in your receipts - neatly laid out on the scanner as if they were taped (not stapled, damnit!) onto sheets of paper and then attaching the resulting scanned images (well, PDFs, actually, as scammed images are too large to submit) electronically to the expense report system.

This new process saves the company postage and is, I'm sure, is easier to copmy with whatever receipt tracking regulations our collective governments can come up with for audits.*  It has also been a boon to the home-office-multi-function-printer-fax (remember faxes?)-scanner-coffee-maker-guitar-tuner-world-band-radio-ceramic-heater-thickness-planer-all-in-one marketplace.  Being the hip and trendy people the Toadrollers are, we already had a scanner or two laying around the house.  Come to think of it, we have had three... but I think we got rid of one of them as it was a useless color all-in-one ink-jet device.  Eww, ink.  I hold my nose at you, ink.

I bought Mrs. Toadroller a new computer with Windows 7 for her birthday.  Zoom-fast-zing-works!  Except, sure enough, the new, hip HP laser all-in-one, well, it and its software don't work with Windows 7... yet.  There went a weekend afternoon.

Today I face-palmed myself and realized that my work laptop, which has my receipt and expense software on it, is XP and heck, I'll just plug the HP Laser all-in-one into it.  Easy as 1,2,3; it's plug and play.  One problem: as different as Apple tries to be in the name of hip and trendy and fun to use**, HP seems to have this desire to be different too, in the name of "we have  a better, albeit more complex, way of doing things."

Here's what I went through:
  1. Plug it into the USB port, XP recognizes the device and goes through whatever machinations XP does to configure it. Result?  XP says, in a dialog box that's awfully familiar, "We can't figure this thing out.  We know it's an HP CM1015 printer and coffee grinder and all that other stuff, but we'll be damned if you can plug and play with it here.  You might want to look all over your house for any installation CDs that came with the thing when you bought it a year ago.  Sorry.***  Would you like to avoid going through this five minute fruitless search for installation information the next time you, in a fit of optimism, plug this thing into your computer?"
  2. Okay, I'll find the install disc for it. I know I have it somewhere... but where?  Oh yes, that's right, I probably left it in Mrs. Toadroller's cd-drive on the Windows 7 (which, when it crashes, (and it does, trust me) does so in a familiar, comforting way.  Just like Vista!) machine when I tried to install it there and Windows 7 rejected it like so much... bad ink. 
  3. Okay, popped it in.  Autorun.exe eventually catches a clue and fires up and... crashes, something about it can't find a .dll it needs in the Windows directory and, like the magic 8-ball, asks me to try again later.
  4. Screw later, I open the file browser on the CD and skip autorun.exe and find setup.exe.  At least they adhere to some standards.  Double click, some whirring and an install wizard comes up.  I agree, next, next, default, next, no, I don't want to install Yahoo toolbar, no, I don't want to register, please don't ask me again, next, next, next, wait, what did I just agree to do, back, oh, nothing, next again, go.  A few more whirs, clicks, nexts and...
  5. Plug in the device to the usb now.  Oh, it's been plugged in.  Unplug and replug, okay, gotcha, next, no, yes, no, ...you'll need to reboot, wanna do it now?  Of course I do.  Log off VPN, save all my open files, kill the processes that XP can't, reboot, login.
  6. Wait a while for it to recognize that it left off installation and then finish the job.  No, I don't want Yahoo Toolbar**** or to register (didn't we just agree that you'd never ask me again?).  Finish.
  7. Oh, I have to start the program for scanning?  I thought you'd do that for me since we've just been through this setup.  Fair enough, you put an icon on my desktop which I don't really recall agreeing to in the midst of all the next buttons I pressed.
  8. Scan option, configure scan types and directories, don't ask me agains and, finally, ready to scan and... "Can't talk to scanning device, try again."
  9. Shut down HP solution software, restart, re-hit scan button, reconfigure and re-don't ask me again, and hey, I'm scanning!  The preview is blank.  Oh- I forgot to put the receipt I was scanning in there. Pilot error.
Okay, hooray, plug and play.  I got my expense report done in an hour and twenty minutes.

* Did you know that in Ronnie Reagan's first year in office, one of his administration was forced to resign over a scandal of receiving an improper gift as a government employee?  The media smelled blood and attacked for months until the guy was forced to resign.  What was the situation?  Early in his term, the Japanese press had arrange for an interview with Mrs. Reagan, (you know, the home & lifestyles type of interview- what it's like to decorate the Whitehouse, etc.) and as customary for Japan, had given a gift of $1,000.00 to the Whitehouse administrator for arranging the interview.  Not knowing what to do with it, he put it in a safe somewhere and forgot about it.  Imagine such a terrible (sarcasm alert) thing happening today, where the head of the IRS i nthe Obama administration has cheated on his taxes.

** I've recently dipped my toe into the world of Apple with an iPod touch.  I'll admit it, it's the coolest friggin electronic device I've ever had.  It rocks.

***They didn't actually apologize.  I made that part up, but the rest of the message in the dialog is verbatim.  Really.

**** legislation and regulation I would vote for is a no-Yahoo Toolbar installation questions list.  Kinda like the no-call list for telemarketers, you know?