A few weeks ago, during a weekly Craigslist/Marketplace survey, I spied a chewed up a dogdish International hubcap in the foreground of a photo. I reached out to the seller to see what the rest of them looked like. He sent me back some pictures, which revealed the condition I was expecting: well-used but still mostly intact.
This design normally comes in two pairs—two solid and two with a hole in the center, but someone widened the donut pair roughly to fit over locking hubs. Those are pretty much garbage. The solid ones are dented but might shine up nice, and for the price I offered they were a bargain; I paid more in shipping than I did for the whole set. I washed them in the work sink and used a rubber-covered wrench to pop most of the large dents out of the two solid ones. I bought them to display, but I can always pick up some inexpensive clock kits and make something useful out of them too.
Here’s an updated version of the energy graphs I plotted last week; this is a two-part visualization that shows the difference between summer and winter.
A couple of weeks ago I found an old fluorescent light fixture up in the attic of the garage while I was organizing stuff, and hauled it into the basement to take a closer look. I don’t remember where it came from. It needed a new cord, but other than that looked clean, so I picked one up from Home Depot and wired it up. Then I took the light stand down and rigged it up from the ceiling over by the brewing stand. Now, instead of taking up the entire workbench, there’s a dedicated growing setup for starting vegetable seeds. Now I just need a 3-prong programmable timer. The goal for this year is to build on last year’s success. I’m going to prepare the bins better this time, with better fertilizer at the beginning, better positioning, and a selection of new seed for some variety. I’m also going to pick up some inexpensive plastic shelving to clean up the greenhouse and open up space for growing.
I have a little notebook in the console of the Scout where I record the mileage every time I put gas in the tank. I started doing this back in 2014 when I wanted to figure out the MPG, and it’s been super valuable to sort out all kinds of other things beyond quantifying how thirsty Peer Pressure is. I took her out today for a quick run to the grocery store before the snow flies this coming week. When I came back inside I brought the book in and plugged the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet. The graph it produced was a little surprising.
|Total Yearly Miles||Miles Minus Nats|
The dip during 2017 makes sense, as I was out of commission from September of that year until about March of 2018 with chemo, surgery, and recovery. I took her 275 miles to the Eastern Shore and back for a camping trip in 2018. Later that year we drove out to Nationals, which accounted for roughly 1,000 miles, and in 2019 we went back. In 2020 I was home every day and thus drove the Scout everywhere. I think I put about 20 miles on the Honda last year. I wonder why I only drove the truck 243 miles in 2016?
I also updated the spreadsheet where I capture costs—for everything like parts, repairs, and incidentals minus gas, and the average cost per year is at $436. I do actually capture gas costs in the mileage book, and maybe if I’m motivated this week I’ll go back out, get the book, and plug that into the spreadsheet.
Meanwhile, there’s a local guy with two trucks on Craigslist, one whole package and one for parts. I inquired about the fender flares on the parts truck but he said he was keeping those. I told him I’d be interested in coming out to see what’s left after the snow melts—I’m still interested in a spare set of locking hubs to put on the shelf, as well as a heater core I can refurbish on the workbench while the snow flies outside.
Finley has been using a Chromebook for schoolwork since they sent everyone home last March, and apart from some initial confusion as to where things were (the cloud) and what it could do (it actually connects to our printer!) it’s been pretty bombproof since then—as a piece of hardware. The software they’re using for the curriculum is hot burning trash. I could have designed something better than this shit on a napkin in 1998. As it turns out, someone else realized this and brought the entire thing to a crashing halt with ransomware late last year. We parents used to be able to log into an account and see our child’s progress but that’s been shut off since the breach, so we’re completely dependent on what Finn sees through her login.
This morning her password stopped working. All three of us tried entering it with no success, so I clicked on the “forgot password” link, which then failed to work. We found the support number and I called it, then sat on hold for 45 minutes until a disinterested, barely conscious woman took my information down, gave me a ticket number, and told me someone would contact me…sometime.
We have Zoom links for Finn’s classes but there’s no direct way to contact her teachers—although I think Jen sniffed out the email addresses and sent word along. But she can’t do schoolwork, and if there’s no other way to contact her, she won’t know what’s happening in class. So far, there’s no word from tech support. Swell.
Meanwhile, word from Baltimore County about the COVID vaccine is sparse and confusing. Apparently I’m in the fourth tier (C), which contradicts some earlier information we’d been given, and I’m not eligible for the vaccine without some kind a note from my doctor. I contacted my oncologist and got a form letter back which basically says don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you. So who knows what’s going to happen.
Meanwhile, our governor has decided that the kids need to go back to hybrid learning by March 1, to which I say: FUCK YOU. Unless we three get vaccinated, Finn will be learning from our dining room table until further notice.
Saturday afternoon I did a yearly sweep of my accounts and downloaded all statements into categorized folders, archiving 2020 into one place. Among the records, I’ve got a record of all of our gas and electric bills from the day we bought the house until now, save a period from March 2010 to October 2013, because BG&E doesn’t save stuff that far back. In 2014 past I plotted our energy usage against the average temperature to see what the pattern was.
Looking back at that graph I realize now that I was plotting the wrong thing: I was interested in cost, which made sense back then, but because pricing fluctuates over time it wouldn’t tell the story I’m more interested in now—about any improvements made in insulation. This would be reflected in the total therms or KWh used, which BG&E helpfully includes on their statements (as well as the average monthly temperature). I dug up some further statements and spent a couple of hours plugging data into the old spreadsheet.
What I found was interesting. Apparently our gas usage has trended downwards by about 50 therms over 17 years, which means that some of the improvements I’ve made in this drafty sieve have made a difference. The scary revelation is that our energy usage has trended upwards dramatically by about 250KWh over that same time period—no doubt the spike in daily usage during 2020 did not help that average. But it tracks; there are three people in the house using appliances and devices and air conditioners instead of two, and we’ve added multiple rooms since 2003.
The big takeaway is that we’re still spending more in the winter to heat the house than we do in the summer to cool it, so my continual quest to insulate and weatherproof will continue. I think nine new windows for the upstairs rooms would help with the drafts as well as some other upgrades—I’m looking at you, front and back doors—and eventually a central air unit that would be four times as efficient as four old window units sucking dollars out of the house.
While we’re on the subject of drafty houses, Finley has been working from her fort while she’s in class. The high is around 48˚ and there’s no insulation out there, so I ran an extension cord from the garage and put my shop heater on a plank of wood to try to combat the cold. She used some Christmas money to buy a small laptop stand and a whiteboard at Target, and over the weekend went out to set things up. Back in the summer the neighbors gave us an old carpet which fit pretty well on the floor, so she’s not sitting on a bare wooden plank, but that’s it for amenities. I dusted off our old Airport base station, reset it for bridge mode, and tucked it up above the workbench in the basement. The new router sits in the living room roughly where the old one did, but if I draw a straight line from that to the fort there are two surfaces covered in aluminum siding in the way, which means the signal is shit out there. So the Airport should keep her Zoom game strong.
I’m a little wary of letting her work out there by herself, but we told her she could do it as long as her grades stayed up and her work got done. So we’ll see how things go.
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This still brings tears of pride to my eyes.
Our long national nightmare is over. Let’s get to work.
Jen and I bought IKEA desk chairs about fifteen years ago (I’m almost positive this was pre-Finley), and we’ve certainly gotten our use out of them in 2020. There isn’t anything technically wrong with them, but my back has been complaining about sitting in mine for 8+ hours daily; there are several problems I’m seeing here. The first and most obvious I that I need to get up more and walk around daily. This is easier said than done some days—last Thursday I was on Zoom calls for six and a half hours straight, and my butt was fused to the fabric. The second is to upgrade my chair. I’m considering buying a used Mirra desk chair, of which there are hundreds available in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. I used a Mirra back at my previous gig and I really liked it—it’s essentially a second take on the Aeron design, where the seat is a mesh and the back can be either a plastic aerated shell or a padded surface. They are infinitely more adjustable than the IKEA chairs, which basically have a tilt and lumbar setting but nothing else. There’s a liquidator in Gaithersburg with a pile of them available, and I may very well be visiting him next weekend.
The next thing we need is a new bed for Finley, who has been sleeping on a bed we moved into this house with. She’s been complaining of aches and pains for the past six months, some of which are certainly due to growing pains, but are more likely due to that worn-out mess. Jen has been doing some research and it’s most likely we’ll have Costco deliver an upgrade shortly.
11:18 PM: The Ravens just shit all over themselves and let the Bills beat them 17-3. Apparently wind was a severe problem, Lamar Jackson threw a pick-six, and a total of three field goals were missed.
We’re done with a giant push to get this year’s Big Presentation complete, as of this morning. My job has seen me in charge of many details and responsible for lots of things I never bargained for when I agreed to it: Today I was in Virginia doing tech support and tackling Golden Retrievers barking at a deliveryman while the CEO was live in front of 1200+ attendees. Other than that hiccup, everything seemed to go off without a hitch, and I was back at home by 12:30. I’m thankful for Martin Luther King day not only because of who the man was, but because I can use Monday to reclaim 5% of the holiday calm I had before returning to work.
The girls gave me a couple of masks for Christmas, which specifically have a firm metal band so that they mold around my giant crooked nose. My beef with all 700+ masks we have is that none of them keep condensation from forming on my glasses—but these fit perfectly. I wore my new mask to the Boss’ house knowing I’d be able to see what I was doing at all times, but didn’t realize it matched my shirt. I guess if I’m going to be coordinated, I might as well do it in front of the CEO.
I’m now 0 for 3 with waterproof boots. LL Bean sent me a brand new pair of Bean Boots which I ordered a 1/2 size smaller according to their recommendations. They’re a 10 but after trying them on I’d actually need a 9 which seems pretty ridiculous—and there’s no guarantee those wouldn’t fit like a pair of Finn’s baby shoes. At this point I’m trying to decide whether I want to exchange them or just go somewhere to try boots on and get something that fits the first time. I feel like I need to plant a couple of trees or maybe sell a car to offset all the carbon I’ve now burned in deliveries.
Looking out the window yesterday morning over coffee, I was amazed to see not one but three turkey buzzards perched on the fence overlooking the carcass while a murder of crows picked at it. One of the buzzards must have seen me because it flew up and perched on my neighbor’s garage and sat there preening. I texted him to apologize for the Wild Kingdom tableau between our yards and told him we were still waiting on Animal Services. He texted back and offered to take it to the dump in his pickup, which I hurriedly agreed to.
We wrapped it up in two layers of plastic and tied it off with some twine, then heaved it into the bed of his truck. It was beginning to get pretty ripe even though the temperature has been in the low 40s here, so I’m glad he offered. We threw a bunch of other trash on top of it and then hustled down to the dump, where they waved us in without a second look in the back.
There’s still a track of dried fluid running down the driveway and tufts of long hair floating around the yard, but it’s nice to have that gone for good. Meanwhile, the Christmas tree continues to sit on our front walk waiting for its date with the chipper.