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.

Steam Radiator Air Valves 101

Posted by Steve on Tue, 01/13/2009 - 12:46pm

As I was just opening my eyes this morning I heard a steady hiss coming from downstairs. Anyone who's got single pipe steam heat knows the sound, especially early in the morning when the boiler is working hard to warm the house from its overnight setback temperature.

That's the sound of pressure from the steam displacing air inside the pipes. It's normal. That's what an air valve on a steam radiator is supposed to do. But if it's loud enough that you can hear it a floor away, you've likely got a problem. It often means the valve is stuck open.

I went downstairs and saw that my glass exterior doors inside the mud room were completely fogged up, in fact dripping.

DIY in the Nuclear Age

Posted by Steve on Sun, 01/11/2009 - 9:59pm

There are lots of reasons to fix up an old house: to restore it to its former glory, to flip it for profit, to gain a sense of satisfaction from a job well done.

Well there's an even more important reason according to the Federal Civil Defense Administration and the National Clean-up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up Bureau. Watch this compelling video, then get those plastic slip covers, people!

More old pictures of my house!

Posted by Steve on Sun, 12/28/2008 - 11:07pm
This summer, as I was standing on the sidewalk talking with a neighbor, a nicely dressed couple, Dorothy and Alec, stopped their car and were staring at my next door neighbor's house. He rolled down his window and said, "that was my grandparents' house until the 1930s".

He had spent a lot of time in the house when he was a little kid in the '30s. Betsy took them on a tour of her place, much of which is still original, and you could tell he was having flashback moments as he recalled the things he used to do in the house and what the neighborhood used to look like. He told several cool stories about what it was like here during WW2, the Liberty ships jamming the harbor waiting to be loaded at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, the trenchcoated G men on Second Avenue looking for people taking photographs of the troop deployments, etc.

They sent Betsy a photo of my house taken in 1936.

Troubles for the Prodigal Key Food?

Posted by Steve on Sat, 12/27/2008 - 12:48pm

Ever since the residents of north Bay Ridge lost their only convenient supermarket several years ago, the poorly managed Waldbaum's at 4th Ave and Senator Street, the neighborhood has been anxious for a store to replace it. Then last spring Key Food announced that it was closing its 95th St store which would leave Bay Ridge even more desperate for supermarket options.

But shortly after that disappointing Key Food announcement, there was a brighter one. Bensonhurst Key Food owner, Sammy Abed, announced that he would be opening a new Key Food in north Bay Ridge on the site of the old Harry's furniture stores on 69th Street off Third Ave.

There was much public and political celebration over the news. Finally, Bay Ridge would get another supermarket, and with convenient parking as well.

The "Coming Soon" banners went up along with the building permits and instructions for home delivery from Abed's Bensonhurst store. Although no official announcement was made, the grand opening was supposed to be early 2009.

But since then, there's been very little visible progress on the property.

In September I got a quick peek inside and saw that trenches had been cut in the concrete floor, probably to accommodate wiring and plumbing for refrigeration.

In November I got another quick look inside and saw that it looked exactly the same. Although I've seen one or two workers going into the place it seemed like nothing substantial was happening with the property besides more graffiti on the facade.


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