One More Trip to Ace…

In an earlier post we described the mysteries, joys, and horrors of the seemingly simple task of changing a light fixture in the kitchen of our 1927 bungalow, leaving the scene with a foam picnic plate covering the unsightly hole we found in under the old light and yet another identical light to replace.

First, back to Lowe’s to pick a light to go with the modern 6-light Z-bar we put in the center of the kitchen.  Because the second light is over the breakfast nook and my parents’ 1937 kitchen table, we wanted it a bit more in keeping with the period of the house.  We found a ribbed-glass shade pendant light in brushed nickel that was just right, and matched the finish on the halogen bar light.

A stop at Ace to pick up yet another shallow plaster/rework box and two large (8-inch) steel wallboard patches.  The latter are metal plates covered with adhesive mesh that extends 2 inches beyond the metal to patch really large holes, like the ones you get when you slam a door knob against the wall.  We are prepared.

Of course, the big surprise when we take down the second light is that, first, the wires just stick out of the plaster: this light was apparently added after the ceiling was textured.  The wiring is even newer, more 1970s-vintage, which we deduced when we tied it in at the center fixture.  So, we only need one of those head-butting-hole fixer plates.  One more thing for the eventual garage sale.  The smooth ceiling, however, presents another problem.  We trace around the round rework box and carefully cut through the beaverboard ceiling with a utility knife, keeping close to the line and working the edge until the plaster box fits snugly in the hole, with the wire through one of the knockouts in the bottom of the box.  We select some screws from our stash of home-repair parts and screw the box securely to the joist and lath, then assemble the lamp.  It looks great, and the original 13-watt CFL from the old ceiling fixture lights up the table just fine, now that it is 30 inches closer.

A few days later, we tackle the paper plate problem.  First, we remove the Z-bar fixture, paper plate, scrape off a couple layers of loose wallpaper in the one-foot-diameter bare circle in the ceiling texture that was under the old fixture, and smooth down the ridge of plaster at the edge of the circle.  I try to cut a hole in the big patch plate with a fly cutter on the drill press, but give up after a bit of chatter starts–the material is pretty thin.  But, it now has a nice 4-inch circle scribed in it.  I drill out the pilot hole to 1/2-inch and use the air nibbler to rough-cut the hole.  Then, I use the air die grinder with a cutoff wheel to trim to the line.  A trip to the kitchen shows we are just a little tight, so scribe a line around the edge with a Sharpie and grind it off, just right.  Just to be safe, I screw the plate into the ceiling, not relying on the mesh adhesive to hold it, as these are designed for wall patches.  Finally, I apply wallboard joint compound, imitating the knock-down texture of the rest of the ceiling as much as possible.  We let it dry overnight, resigning ourselves to cooking in the dark again.

The next day, I put a coat of primer on the new plaster before we leave for the day.  When we return, I paint the patch to match the rest of the ceiling and remount the light fixture in time for dinner.

It looks like it was always there.  But, like other old-house projects, it took a total of a couple of weeks to finish (we did take a trip to Montana in the middle of this exercise), at least four trips to various hardware stores, and we have extra parts and material left over.  The total cost of replacing two kitchen lights was about $120, and, while not to modern electrical code, is better and safer than it was, and is functional.   To completely upgrade the wiring and use restored or reproduction fixtures would have taken more than two weeks and cost several thousand dollars that we don’t have right now.New Kitchen Lighting

Back to Business — sort of

Arrived back in Washington in time to take care of serial sick grandkids, in between looking at mysterious freeze-ups in a client’s HPC cluster (nothing new–it has been an issue through several OS upgrades, an elusive will-o-the-wisp that has existed since $CLIENT == $WORK -> TRUE) and exploring new Linux tools.  New to me, anyway.  Fired up GKrellm, the Linux performance monitor.  Looks much like the old perfmeter tool that has been in Solaris since the OpenWindows days.

Beginning to settle in and get comfortable with Ubuntu 9.10, which has lots of subtle improvements over 8.10, which we’ve used since late 2008. Judy’s workstation is still at 9.04, as I haven’t had time to work out some upgrade issues that need tweaking on the upgrade. Hers is 64-bit, so there are some other issues there, too. We recently upgraded the HP-Compaq C714NR laptop to 2GB of RAM, which really makes a difference in performance, but not quite ready to brave the 64-bit issue with all the wireless issues we’ve had over the years. The Gnome Network Manager is nearly flawless, and gets us on wireless networks painlessly, at least since we resolved the cantankerous Broadcom 4311 driver problems.  Best of all, if it detects a strong network you already have configured, it simply and automatically connects. We still have a bit of a kludge in the wireless driver arena, as we first let the b43 driver load, get the usual “you must update your firmware” message, then run a startup script to unload b43 and load the Broadcom driver, after which all is well. Hmm, time to go look at the firmware issue, as long as we don’t have a road trip planned for almost a month.  I did install b43-fwcutter and fiddle with this earlier, but without much success.  Sometimes us old hardware hackers just need a system that works, to get on with the revenue-producing work, that  doesn’t involve endless tweaking of drivers and firmware.

Combining business with pleasure: alternate routes on road trips

After a few trips back and forth along I-90, the Auburn Cut-off, and the I-5 gauntlet through Fort Lewis commuting back and forth between Washington and Montana, we are itching to make our trips seem a bit more adventuresome.  That’s a hard task in mid-winter, but today we turned away from I-90 at Ritzville, on WA395 headed toward Pasco.  When we had gotten far enough off I-90 to convince the GPS that we really didn’t want to drive the Interstate all the time, we asked for directions to Yakima, and were rewarded with a diversion on WA 26 to Othello, then WA 24 across the Hanford Reach, the last wild stretch of the Columbia River in the U.S. That put us in Yakima right at dusk, as the GPS switched to night mode as we exited at the motel.  We loaded the cargo tray with enough garden tools and other effects left behind in our move to point the headlights at an annoying angle, so we decided to drive back during daylight hours only, which, in winter, means stretching the 12-hour transit to two days, so we might as well use an alternate, longer route.

We can check the weather and pass conditions in the morning to decide whether to tackle White Pass (US 12) in winter, which we haven’t done before, or run the Ellensburg Canyon back to I-90 and join the traffic rush across Snoqualmie Pass.  We did return to Montana once via White Pass and US 12 last summer when our house-closing trip ran shorter than we planned.  Back when the speed limit was 55mph, we took almost every possible combination of routes between the Seattle area and the Flathead Lake area on our annual vacation trips to Montana, so we’re looking forward to having time to explore those routes again by simply taking a bit more time to detour.  Besides, it saves planning a special trip to revisit scenic places in Washington.

Ubuntu Karmic Koala update looking better

After a week of upgrade woes getting our Broadcomm wireless chip to work with Karmic Koala, the effort seems to be worthwhile, especially since discovering the builtin Gnome Network Manager applet.  We’re sitting at Zaxan Cafe at The Mill  in Hamilton, and the wireless connection was a painless click-click.  Last time we were here, running Intrepid Ibex (8.10), lots of fiddling required in the old network manager, etc.  We tried WiFi-Radar, but it comes with Some Assembly Required, Batteries Not Included: the Gnome applet just plain works.

Linux, and particularly Ubuntu, is becoming a mainstream end-user system, slowly but surely.  Unix has always been an “expert friendly system,” and the need for professional system administration services (and some of us have had our own issues with lack of documentation) has kept it out of the “even Grandma can use it” mode.   We’re using Google Chrome, which is evolving, but the extensions are almost essential to business-oriented social networking and cloud computing.  Firefox is the solid browser, and Opera is attractive.

“Better Than New” — Old House Restoration

After five weeks, we returned to Montana to check on restoration of our other old house.  Backstory–we got a call from our realtor on New Year’s Day that there was water running down the walls in the dining room, wallpaper hanging from the ceiling, etc.  Seems the cold water faucet connection, undisturbed for probably 30 years, suddenly decided to start leaking, which went undetected through several house showings and a friend checking on the house from time to time, as it went directly behind the sink cabinet into the floor.

Purvis Restoration did a great job, ripping out soggy floor and ceiling, drying and mold control applied, and the nearly-new carpet salvaged.  We hired Tom O’Shaunessy, who had painted the dining room originally, to do the repaint.  The outcome is fantastic, it looks like nothing ever happened, except there is new vinyl in the upstairs bathroom.

So, moral of the story–when you inspect for leaks, feel the joints or wipe them down: leaks are not always visible.  Sadly, we just went through a round of leak fixing in our “new” old house in Washington.