Building stairs the EZ way

Posted by Steve on Sun, 03/15/2009 - 6:36pm


Shortly after I took possession of my house, I was cleaning up the cellar one afternoon when I noticed my cat, Chopper, engrossed with something halfway up the old cellar stairs. I checked to see if he might have a moth and instead saw a pile of paint chips and wood fibers below the stringer he was pawing at. With the paint removed, I saw hundreds of white wormy looking things. Termites!

How did this happen? I'd closed on the house nine months earlier. My inspector found some evidence of an old termite infestation and, to be safe, my lawyer made the closing contingent upon an exterminator's report. The report was so terse that the inspector could have Twittered it: "Found/killed two termite colonies. No evidence of internal infestation."

Evidently this bonehead's inspection was as thorough as his report because the termites had dug a tunnel from the far foundation wall, across the ceiling through a 3" floor joist, and down the stairs. It cost me $1500 to have a licensed, BBB-certified exterminator exterminate the house. There's more to that story, but I'll digress on that some other time. What matters is that I had to replace that staircase. I was very lucky it didn't collapse on me.


The Key Food Disconnect

Posted by Steve on Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:26pm


In December, your wannabe Norm Abrams (me) tried a taste of old school investigative bloggerism and reported on the troubles with the construction of the new 69th Street Key Food supermarket. The local pols and press had been reporting that Key Food was on schedule for January opening. Problem is, I wasn't seeing any work being done on the place. Then the day after Christmas while walking the dogs by 244 Bay Ridge Avenue, I saw a stop work order from the Dept of Buildings plastered on the side of the building.

Everything must have worked itself out, or one would presume so, because on Feb 10, 2009, there was a post on City Councilman, Vincent Gentile's, blog announcing the long awaited completion date for the 69th Street Key Food Supermarket.
 

I want to update everyone with some good news: work on the site recently resumed, and the store is expected to open in the end of March. So in just a little over a month, Bay Ridge will have a new supermarket!

Beware the Sucker Holes

Posted by Steve on Wed, 02/04/2009 - 12:43pm


No, that's not a pornographic double entendre. "Sucker hole" is a term I learned from an old flight instructor. It's a break in the clouds which beckons naive, non-instrument rated pilots to take a chance on finding clear skies through that hole only to have the clouds close in on them and leave them in zero visibility.

ISY99-iLast week I said I'd post my progress with the new Insteon home automation device, the ISY99-i. Lemme digress for a second. Say what you will about marketing droids, but when a company goes to the trouble of holding a brain jam to create a slick product name for its baby -- like "Insteon" for example -- it says that someone was paying at least a little attention to the customer. Needless to say, this wasn't done with the ISY99-i.

I've been through this so many times that I knew with 89% certainty what I was embarking on. Out of the box I saw that I was going to have problems. For one, the packing slip said that there was a DB9 serial cable. In fact, it was a cable with a DB9 on one end and an ethernet connector on the other. Useless to me, or for any other purpose I could think of. And there was no manual, just a link to a web site, where it talked about an installation disk, which also wasn't included. After a half hour of searching the site for a download I ran across a forum message saying that the ISY99-i doesn't use an installation disk.

You know, I can understand why a paper manual might be out of date, but a web site? This wasn't a good start. It only got worse from there.

For one, the device requires Java to be installed on your computer. My professional experience with Java includes countless crashed web browsers, broken web sites, locked up devices, bloated web servers and poorly written spyware. The ISY99-i didn't do much to temper my dislike for Java. But that's only after I managed to get into the software. I spent most of the afternoon trying to communicate with a dead device until a response to my "Helllp!!" message on the company's forum told me that I had to disable my anti-virus software. What?!! Does the company really expect its customers to also invest in compatible A/V software to use their product?

My house "blue screened", or The Confessions of a House Geek

Posted by Steve on Sat, 01/24/2009 - 8:27pm


I had my first Insteon home automation device failure this week. Unfortunately, it happened to the brains of the "automation" part -- the software/hardware combination that executes the timers that turn the lights on and off. Specifically, the culprit was the PowerLinc device that bridges my house to the USB port on my computer which runs the timers.

2414u Here's the little sucker. At 70 bucks, it's not like changing a lightbulb. Okay, I was pissed about it, especially as it's only a little over two years old. But, fact is, I was never happy with this automation set up. For one thing, it requires leaving a Windows box on 24/7 for the timers to work. And the HouseLinc software I was using must have some memory leaks in it because once I removed it from my computer it seemed to gain an extra half a processor.

What I really want is an Insteon driver for Linux/FreeBSD that would let me build my own timers in Perl, which I could run under Unix cron. That's what I did with my former X10 automation layout, which was decidedly more hobbyist-friendly than Insteon but decidedly more flaky as well, which is why I got rid of it. I spent a couple of hours Googling for open source alternatives to no avail before winding up back at the SmartHome web site.

It was there I noticed a couple of new Insteon products. One was a relatively inexpensive home automation controller that runs from a smart phone. It got 4 out of 6 on my Coolness Meter but it was functionally less than I had with HouseLinc. True Geeks don't downgrade.

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