Cleaning Gutters Can Be Fun (No, Really)

A couple weeks ago, Stephanie and I attempted to clean the gutters.  The way I’ve done this the past few years is with a long (but not quite long enough) wand with a hook on the end and a nozzle that directs water to the side in a wide fan.  The idea is that the water spray will get under the cruft and just blow it out of the gutters.  The truth is that it kinda pushes it whatever direction you want it to go, and then you scoop it out by hand from there.  While this wasn’t terrible – you only need the ladder in 1-2 places – it’s horribly time consuming (you have to do small sections at a time), tremendously water wasting, and unbelievably tiresome to hold your arms up over your head for a few hours.  Plus it requires that you go up and down the ladder a lot, or have someone stand on the ladder to do the “catching” – difficult to do when someone’s got to watch the kids too.  So Sunday night I bought a Looj, and got to play with it Wednesday and Thursday after work for the first time.  This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

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PECO: More Suck, Less Lawfulness!

I didn’t mention it when it happened – in part because I was too pissed to write anything more coherent than a string of obscenities – but PECO turned off our power again a little while ago.  This time the overdue amount was just under $200, and again there was no contact made to Stephanie or I about turning it off.  Of course, like last time if you asked them about that, they’d say of course they contacted us, and provide dates and times when they talked to someone on the phone.  Mysteriously though, the recordings of those conversations would not be available, so there would be no proof that they actually talked to someone – just a line on a computer screen with a date and time.  Well, I did a little poking around last night, and found some interesting information.. while it’s hard to prove a negative (that they didn’t actually contact us this time, or the last time) there’s one thing that is easy to prove: This last time, they turned off the power on a Friday (October 30th 2009, I paid on my credit card so the date is easily verifiable too).  Now according to Pa. Code § 56.82, “Except in emergencies—which include unauthorized use of utility service—service shall not be terminated, for nonpayment of charges or for any other reason, during the following periods: (1)  On Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.”  So now I contacted the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission to find out what can be done to make sure PECO stops breaking the law.

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It’s Craptastic – No More!

In other news, our current “promotion” for Comcast Cable was due to expire at the end of this billing cycle.  A few months ago we looked into alternatives, and DirecTV seemed to be the way to go.  My parents have it, and they’re quite happy – and the normal price for a comparable package to one we had already was cheaper than Comcast’s special price, whatever special that was (certainly one that we had to call back every 6 months and complain about the bill being too high so we could get it).  So a week ago Saturday DirecTV came out to install the dish, and I helped run the coax through the side of the house into the basement and up to the TV since I wanted it to go a specific way – plus I could do that while the installer was mounting the dish, and it got done even faster (and if something got screwed up, I was the one doing it :> ).  We ran both boxes together for a week while we copied over the series recording lists, told the Comcast box to stop recording new shows, and caught up on what was stored there (it was empty as of this past Saturday morning).  One thing I definitely noticed, the DirecTV software is MUCH faster than any of the Comcast boxes we’ve had, even without a DVR in them.  When you scroll through a page of channels in the guide, it just happens instead of thinking about it.  Rewinding the DVR isn’t a matter of push the button and wait and see if it registered, it just works (sometimes too fast, you’re back where you started before you realize it rewound at all).  The 30-second “skip” is no more – even though the Comcast box required that you program a key on the remote to do it, since they didn’t advertise that it was available at all – and instead you get a 30-second “slip” where the box goes into fast forward mode for 30s of recording time.  I actually prefer this, because if you see a commercial that interests you, you can back up and watch it.

All the dish naysayers will talk about “losing signal in the weather”, but we’ve had two major storms since it was installed and only the latter showed any problems – for all of 2 minutes while the worst of the storm went overhead.  I can deal with that no problem, considering all of the benefits this system has already shown.

Come Up To My Pad

Bit of old news, but it was a.. landmark :P  David’s Christening was a couple weeks ago, and before that Stephanie and I decided that it was high time we do something about the grills – when we bought them right as we moved in, we put them in the back yard and planned on doing something more permanent later.  Well, it’s been two years, I guess that’s later.  After getting a quote for a nice deck that we wanted to do, and realizing it was around double what we wanted to spend at the time, I priced things out for pouring a concrete pad to sit them on (originally I thought about doing pavers, but that would’ve been as much or more work when you consider leveling the ground and all, plus you can still get weeds growing up through them).  This was all decided on a Friday night, mind you, and we started the work on Saturday :>  Went and got all the materials, and Leigh and I started digging.  By the end of the night, the basics were done, and on Sunday he and my father did the post hole and trench for the electrical (I put a pressure treated post by the pad, with an outlet and light on it for nighttime grilling and use of the rotisserie without an extension cord).  Jim showed up later on, and we finished the form, backfilled and leveled, and then waited for the rain to pass.  After it did, and the ground dried up enough, we mixed 18 bags of concrete to pour a 10’x3’x4″ pad – hampered by the failure of the cement mixer part way through, and having to mix the rest by hand in the wheelbarrow that I’m glad I bought on Saturday.  By about 9pm I was edging, grooving and surfacing the pad, and while it would’ve looked better if I finished in the light (so I could see where I dug a little too much while surfacing it), I still say it looks damned good for someone who’s never lifted a bag of concrete in their life.  So did all of the people who saw it the following weekend :>

Phase II Begins!

You may remember discussion of Phase I from before (and if not you can click that link to see it).  Well, the time has come, 90% of the needed equipment is here (waiting on the bracket to mount a patch panel to the plywood), but there’s no reason I can’t start by making some holes in the walls.  So this evening that’s just what I did.  As of right now, the first wallbox is half done.  Still one more in the office to do after that, then there’s the living room and shack.  And that’ll be about 90% of the house wired for Ethernet :>  I’ll also want to replace the one phone line in the kitchen, and may want to eventually run one or two wallboxes to the kitchen/dining room, and I’ll definitely want one in each bedroom.  But the upstairs ones can wait longer, since they’ll be more difficult and there’s no real need for them yet, as can the kitchen/dining room.  So that initial 90% figure will be about 100% of the ones that I really want to have done anyway.

Pictures will follow when the job is complete (in fact, I haven’t taken any yet, but not much has happened so far except a hole in the wall and 3 CAT5e cables coming out of it).


I’ve got a wash tub. Last night I finished up the plumbing for it, and this morning I picked up some brackets (actually the clamps you use to secure BX cable to a stud) to hook it onto the standoff I built behind it. So only a year after we moved in, I finally got a utility sink in the basement for washing up after working on the trucks – which I also did today. Oil change, air filter and new serpentine belt went quite well, but the planned changing of plugs and wires was canceled on account of my arms not bending that way. Decided I’d rather pay someone else to do it once every 100k miles than deal with the aggravation and frustration of trying to reach in there myself (especially when two of them appear to be behind the evaporator coil). At least I checked the brakes, and they’re fine – and just in case I needed to loosen the back to get the drums off, I picked up the tools I’d need to do a brake job anyway, so I’m prepared when they finally need replacing.

As Keith would say, “This thread is useless without pictures,” so have a look at the utility sink. The truck looks the same, no photos of that 😛

No More Drips

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, about an hour or so after I put it up I got a call back from the plumber.  They came out in the afternoon, and the three guys had a look at what I had done so far, and what wasn’t working.  Right on the truck they had the right part to fit where the one I had bought didn’t quite make it, and installed that with this tar-like sealant around the outside and inside.  Small piece of 2″ PVC into that, reducer down to 1-1/2″, then compression fit adapter for the trap.  All told, $140 later (which worked out to around $10/min for how little time it took them) I had the right parts and the job done properly without having to get my hands dirty again.  If anything, I’ve learned two lessons from this: 1) Don’t mess with the cast iron piping if I can avoid it, and 2) If the job requires messing with the cast iron piping, call Lou Gottel Plumbing instead of dealing with it myself 😛

$h!tty Weekend

This weekend saw a lot of things done, but not much of it was pleasant. Saturday my father came down and we cut up the old oil tank and got the pieces bagged and outside so they can be disposed (and one and a half 5-gallon buckets of slop that was in the bottom of the tank). Lots of arm shaking with the reciprocating saws, and I went through 6 of my 5 batteries (one had recharged during the time we were working). Also replaced the kitchen faucet since we bought a utility tub for the basement, and I wanted a faucet for the new tub that has a sprayer on it instead of the standard two valve things that come with the kits – you never realize how handy it is to have a sprayer on those things until you don’t have one. So the kitchen faucet now is one of the models where the end of the faucet comes out and turns into a sprayer, and Stephanie is quite happy with it. On Sunday, we went back to Lowes and picked up the parts I’d need to install the tub in the basement, including some things to go into the 2″ hub in the cast iron pipe that is where the old tub was located. That’s when the fun began.

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Oh Well

Then I go and post nothing in May either.  Oh well, been busy lately.  Still haven’t had time to get the APRS antenna mounted, but now I’ve got a ladder sitting in the garage (on loan from my father) which I can use to get high enough on the house to mount it.  Think I’m just a 3/8″ hole saw away from finishing that project up, and having full use of the charcoal grill again without first having to turn off the APRS radio and move the magmount.  Speaking of the garage, I picked up some shelves on Friday evening and put them together in there, and got all the stuff that was littering the floor onto them.  Between that and some organization kits from there, all the yard tools are hung up nicely on the walls now, and I even made a spot for the lawn chairs so I’m not tripping over them either (nor are they falling over if I bump into them slightly).  Finally, for the first time in.. 5 years?.. I got all my tools organized and put away into the toolbox.  When we moved from Mays Landing to West Deptford, I never bothered to do it since they hadn’t moved around too much.  But when we moved to Ewing, they definitely got jostled and I just didn’t bother at all since I rarely used any of them.  Kinda hard to work on a car in a parking lot when your tools are on the second floor, and I didn’t have stuff around the house to fix either.  Now there’s a place for just about everything, and the shelves that were already in the garage are almost cleaned off.  Maybe tonight or one other night this week I’ll vacuum the junk off of them, and then I can start pulling them out to put down the second shelving unit we purchased as a workbench (instead of stacking the two halves on top of each other, they also suggest putting the units side by side as a workbench).  I’ll have to measure things out, the wood currently used as a top for the old shelves might make a good workbench top for the new ones so it’s sturdy and consistent across the two units.  After that, the pegboard on the back wall will probably come down, and either go back up with spacers or get replaced, as well as expanded.  Then a lot of the hand-type tools that are in the toolbox currently will go on there, and I’ll have more room without needing another toolbox yet.

The basement hasn’t had much done lately, though the oil tank is on end and ready to be cut up into pieces – both to get it up out of the basement and for easy disposal.  Quite a bit of stuff has collected down near the work bench though, and I really need to get down there soon and clean things up so there’s room to work again.  Stephanie wants me to make some benches to go in the dormers upstairs – one cedar lined, and one regular – and I’ve also got to fix up a couple of the dining room chairs.  Need to grab a couple large clamps for those, and though people have offered to loan them to me, I’ll want them around anyway, so I might as well buy them :>

Finally, in one of our last trips to Lowes, I realized that copper has come down in price considerably.  I think I paid around $79 for 250′ of 14/2 wire, and $119 for 12/2.  Now 14/2 was around $49, and 12/2 was $79.  A 10′ length of 1/2″ pipe was $10 and change, and the best part was a 1000′ spool of CAT5 cable for $80.  The last of that list came home with me, so once the NJ tax return comes through I’m going to pick up the patch panel, switch and the last of the stuff needed to do the home network and new phone wiring so I can get started on that.  Since the office (2 drops) and shack are the most “important” ones, followed by the living room, I can probably do all of that in one weekend, maybe even one day.  The two upstairs drops will likely be the hardest, but they’re also the least important, so whenever they eventually happen is good enough.  Probably not until we rip the rooms apart to insulate them.


Reached another milestone this weekend.  Earlier in the week, I’d mounted the NEMA enclosure inside the shack which would serve as the coax passthrough (a way to get the coax connections into the house, without running them through the window as I had done since the antenna was first setup).  This Saturday afternoon, David (N0YMV) and I decided – almost spur-of-the-moment – that now was a good time to mount the dualbander on the house as I’d wanted to do since quite awhile ago.  I had stopped short of doing it before because I wanted the coax passthrough done first (so I could close and lock the shack window again).  But now that the box was mounted and working out, there was no excuse.  Not even the slight cold and mild wind 😛

Photos available in the gallery as usual.  Next project, mounting the 5/8 groundplane antenna for APRS on the garage peak.  Stay tuned…