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*tap tap* This thing on?

It's been just over a month since I last posted anything here. I know, bad me, no cookie.

I can't guarantee that postings will be more frequent, at least not for the next month. HOWEVER, there is a good chance that they will be for at least a two week period.

You see, in less than a week, Jessica and I head out for a GRAND ADVENTURE! We are taking a trip to Idaho to visit Jessica's sister and to spend a couple of days in Glacier National Park. This will be great in and of itself, but to really put the whipped cream and cherry on top we are taking the train out and back with a sleeper compartment the whole way! :-D

Many of you are aware that I am a big train buff. I enjoy traveling by train,  I enjoy model railroading, & I love the sound of hearing the trains going past the house about 1/2 mile away.

Jessica enjoys trains too, and much prefers the thought of traveling by train to flying. I say prefers the thought because although she has traveled extensively growing up, it was always by car. She has never flown or taken a train (save a short 30 min tourist railroad trip).

So, we are taking the train out to Idaho via DC and Chicago and coming back via LA and New Orleans!

We plan on taking LOTS of pictures with the recently (Christmas) new (to us) camera: a Canon Rebel XT DSLR - 8 MP with two lenses, a SIGMA 70-300mm and a Canon 35-80mm. We will have two memory cards, a 2 GB and a 32 GB one so we shouldn't run out of storage :-)
Plus, in case we do, I will have the laptop with 1 TB external drive along to dump pictures onto and compose blog posts on. :-)

I have also gone ahead and splurged on a 1 year pro account on Flickr to have a place to share pictures online that won't try and steal the pictures the way TwitPic tries to do.

So, we hope to take lots of pics and document our trip, but don't expect me to be online too much, as we will be spending most of the time looking out the windows and enjoying the trip!

(And for those that are worried about the furball known as Annie, my mom and sister will be house/cat sitting to ensure she gets her kibbles, litter box cleaned, and skritches :-)

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My wife and I just got back from getting a walk through on a potential investment property that we are looking at buying and renovating. We have some serious discussions ahead of us.

The building itself is a traditional 2 story brick structure, just like in every small downtown across America built from the late 1880s to around 1940. In the image below, it is the white one with the flag in front.

click for further details )

The building is 25 ft wide and 100 ft long. It has load bearing masonry walls, and 2 floors. The first floor has about 16 ft ceilings, while the second floor only has about 8 ft ceilings. There is a cobbled together office area at the rear on the 1st floor, stairs, a single toilet with a utility sink under the stair, and an old, inoperable, mechanical lift that is original to the building (inoperable due to a major beam that supported the lift having failed where the lift cross beam ties into it). Currently aside from the storefront seen in the picture, there are boarded up windows on the ground floor rear, and one boarded up and one actual window that still has glass in it on the second floor rear.

There is still an original tin ceiling tile and cove trim on both floors, but about 30 percent of it is in rough, un-salvageable shape. The second floor floor structure seems weak, and judging by the condition of the tin ceiling on both floors, I'd say the building has had its fair share of roof leaks that went unfixed over the years, which might explain the weak floors. I weigh around 240 lbs, and the floors definitely had some "bounce" to them that wasn't supposed to be there. Also, there is evidence that the floor bows down in the center away from the side, supporting walls. Considering that the floor joists seem to be 2"x16"s on a 25 foot span, the bow is understandable.

There was evidence of roof structural damage in at least one place, as there was an attempt at shoring the roof up by sistering in new lumber and placing a (now bowed) 2x4 as a prop underneath one of the joists to help support it. As such, the roof structure is very suspect as well.

From outside on the ground, the parapets and coping do not look to be in the greatest of shape either, though I do not think the current roof is leaking, as this was the third or fourth day in a row that it has rained in the area and I saw no evidence of fresh leakage. There were two skylights that had been covered over.

Also, there was evidence that the upstairs used to have at least two windows overlooking main street, but those have been filled in.

Considering the shape of the building, the price is reasonable but a tad high I feel, but there is still more room for negotiation.


So, what would we do with this building?
read on... )
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Flying out in the morning to La Crosse, WI. I and a colleague are going to kick start an energy survey at an installation in the area. We will hit the ground running first thing in the morning Wednesday, and (hopefully) finish up around 5 pm.

Being a southern boy, I am SO glad that they are having a heat wave right now, with the temperature supposed to be in the mid 40's on Wednesday!

That evening, I will also take the first steps at marking an item off of my "bucket list" † namely, I will purchase two Amtrak Rail Passes for Jessica and I to take an around the nation rail trip later this summer. :-) The reason I am purchasing them in La Crosse is that there is a staffed, full service Amtrak station there, with a ticket agent that can help me book everything. Since it is the first time I have used a rail pass, I would prefer to have someone I can ask questions of when I am purchasing.

A rail pass, for those not in the know, is a pass that allows a certain number of trip segments within a certain time frame. A segment is defined as any time you get on and then get off a train. It could be a short 1 hour trip to the next town, or a longer multi-day trip across the country. The shortest duration pass is the 15 day pass, which allows up to 8 segments. There are 30 and 45 day passes available as well, which allow 12 and 18 segments respectively. In pricing out the trip, a 15 day rail pass will save us about $600, so it is definitely worth the additional hassle!

Our plan is to take the train to go visit Jessica's sister, who is currently teaching at the University of Idaho, in Moscow, ID. We plan to get a roomette in the sleeper car for all segments of the trip, which aside from granting us beds to sleep in, and a shower we can use, it also gives us free meals in the dining car while on board.

Our route will be from Birmingham, AL to Washington DC on board the "Crescent". If the train is on time in to DC, we will have about 6 hours to sight-see in DC before we board the "Capitol Limited" bound for Chicago. We should have about 6 hours in Chicago, before we board the "Empire Builder" headed for Spokane, WA.

Spokane is the closest station to the University of Idaho, being about 2 hours away. My sister in law has agreed to pick us up, even though the train doesn't arrive until 1:40 in the morning!
We will spend a couple of days visiting with her ans her boyfriend, before she drops us back off at the station for the trip home, the long way around.

We head from Spokane to Portland, OR, where we have a short layover prior to boarding the "Coast Starlight" which takes us to Los Angeles. We then will take the "sunset Limited" to New Orleans, then finally board the "Crescent" again to return to Alabama.

All Aboard!



† The 2007 movie "Bucket List" was about two terminally ill cancer patients (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a list of things to do before they die. This concept has been appropriated by many, who have compiled lists of things to be done before their death.
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I, along with many of my friends and colleagues have a fascination with the concept of tiny homes. Whether it is one of Jay Shafer's Tumbleweed Tiny Houses or a homemade, timber-frame house (built in an old firehouse then moved) or any of the myriad other tiny structures that are the focus of what seems to have become an underground movement. The concept of a small, simple house, pared down to the simple minimums for living, working, relaxing, or pursuing hobbies is a strong draw.

The main problem a lot of people have, is what do I do with my stuff?


George (may he rest in peace) had it right. What do you do with your stuff?

My solution to the issue is somewhat of a modification of the tactics suggested by Rob Roy in his great book, Mortgage Free!, Second Edition: Innovative Strategies for Debt-Free Home Ownership I highly recommend it to those looking for outside-the-box thinking on home ownership.

In a nutshell, he advocates buying land, quickly building a Tiny House that you can live in as soon as possible so that you can avoid having to pay for housing, then as time and money permits, building the larger house that you will be comfortable in.

His reasonings are:
- unimproved land is cheap compared to land with a house
- if you build a small house to live on the land, you save the money typically used for housing yourself elsewhere
- you live in the small house while you build the larger house
- as this first house is planned to be temporary, you should not make it too comfortable or too large, or else you will not want to move

My modifications to this plan are somewhat minor.

I agree with the concept of buying the land and building. After all, I AM an architect, I can design what we want and then build it! I can also see his point in getting on the land quickly in a small cottage, then working on the big house.

The problem I see with this concept though is what do you do with all of your stuff? It obviously won't fit into this small house, so where does it go?

Well, my concept is that you build a storage building on the property first, before you build the cottage, large enough to store your stuff and function as a small workshop. This can be accomplished fairly inexpensively, especially compared to what the monthly rental fees on a storage unit will cost you.

Once you have the storage building built, you can move your stuff over a little at a time while you are building your small cottage. This will also give you an opportunity to see what stuff you can truly do without in your house, and what stuff you actually need and use, without actually getting rid of anything.

Once you have your small cottage built, then you move onto the land. At this point I feel you should concentrate on getting rid of all debt before you even begin building the larger house you want. You have a small place to call home, and all of your stuff is available, so now is the time to get debt free.

Once you have your debts paid off, then it will be much easier to fund the building of your larger house. Just remember that you do not need to build a guest room in your larger house, (unless you really want it) since you will have the cottage you are living in available for guest quarters, as well as the storage building available for storing the stuff you don't really need but can't bear to part with. ;-)

An alternative concept would be to not have a traditional house design at all.

When you think about it, a house has public and private spaces. The private spaces are typically the bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets, while the public spaces are everything else.

Now, consider for a moment this concept.

It is akin to a wilderness lodge with cottages parti. Each person requiring a room has their own cottage for privacy. Yet the common functions such as meals and socializing would be in the "lodge" part of the residence.

In the "Big house" you place the living room, dining room, large kitchen, library, porches, decks etc. The spaces that you typically use for entertaining when you have guests over.

Instead of also having the private spaces as a part of that, why not give each sleeping/bathing space it's own cottage, separate from the public space, yet connected via a breezeway that can be enclosed for comfort in winter. These cottages could be arrayed around a small courtyard garden, and since you would not be required to build everything at once due to the modularity, the ability to self finance the construction would be enhanced.

Plus, if your family (or extended family) gets a little bigger, then add another cottage on to accommodate the new arrival.

Now this concept can be adapted to urban living too, however the additional rules and regulations associated with city life (such as building and zoning codes) plus the higher cost of land, make it a bit harder to accomplish.

Mull on the concept a bit, and let me know what you think!
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Well, as some have gathered from FB, Home sale #3 fell through last weekend. The bank hired an appraiser who decided to use short-sales and foreclosures as "comparables" to determine the appraised value of the home we are trying to sell in Knoxville. In doing so, he set the "value" of the home at $83,000. The contract price was $95,000. BIG problem.

The loan officer was willing to let my and the buyer's realtors supply true comparables that were not short-sales/ foreclosures, and try and see if underwriting would accept that.

Needless to say, we were not happy. But, last Sunday someone decided to take a look at the house, even though it was under contract. They fell in love with it.

It turns out, that not only did they want the house, but they were CASH BUYERS, so there was no bank involved! PLUS, they were under the gun to buy, as that cash was available under a 1031 exchange that was about to expire. A 1031 exchange is a tax law that allows you to not pay capital gains taxes on the sale of a house, so long as you put the money back into a new house within 45 days. They also indicated that they were willing to make a reasonable offer, if we would get out of contract #3 to sell it to them.

So, Sunday afternoon, we negotiated verbally with them, and settled on a final price of $90,000. Monday, they sent over a signed contract, and Monday morning, we broke contract #3 due to the appraised value not being equal to or more than the contract price, signed the Release of Earnest Money form, then five minutes later signed the new contract along with a counter offer to clear up a few loose ends.

The new closing date? Instead of being Friday Jan 21st, it is now Monday Jan 24th.

So... 9 days of which 4 are weekends or holidays left until we sell.

Keep them fingers and toes crossed!
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I have been remiss in sharing my thoughts here on a regular basis. What with the economy tanking putting so many architect friends out of work, the bad times bringing out the true colors of my previous bosses, the new job which involved a move to another state, learning how things are done in the Corps of Engineers (hint, it's not like the outside world), attempting to sell our house in Knoxville (two contracts fell through, this last one seems to be actually happening - 3 weeks until closing), and a good bit more, things were just plain hectic and writing, unfortunately, was preempted by life.

Now that the new year is upon us, and life has settled down a bit, I hope to have more time to share my life and my thoughts here on the glowing screen. (It helps that I have been off the past week, allowing me to relax, rest, and recharge my batteries).

Looking forward, I see interesting times, in the Chinese curse sort of way. On a personal front, this will be the year in which I start truly decimating our personal debt. The new job meant a 66% raise over what was comfortable to our needs. And although I just succumbed to the lure of getting a new truck, (no really, there is a 2011 Ford Ranger Extended Cab sitting in my driveway right now) it was bought yesterday, in the old year. The new year will be one of paying off debt like a madman.

Why I bought new, plus pics! )


For those that are not aware, I keep close tabs on our finances. I have a custom spreadsheet that I use on an almost daily basis, in which I keep track of income, daily expenses and timing the paying of bills. I can use this spreadsheet to project "what-if" scenarios out into the future, and can look back at the last three years of our finances to see where the money has gone. Thanks to this spreadsheet, I can optimize and forecast the paying down of debt and know that baring some major unforeseen event, we will be debt free in three years. (It would have been two, but the truck isn't free).

The reason I am such a stickler about debt is that in the minds of both my wife and I, debt = slavery. Debt free = freedom. Neither of us like debt, and after the uncertainty of the past year or so, we are bound and determined to get our debt paid down. If I hadn't found a better job, I don't know how we would have met our bills up in Knoxville. :-/ Yes, I added to our debt by buying the truck, but the usefulness and dependability, not to mention lack of repair bills for the next several years, in my opinion trump the additional burden.

So, beginning this month, we are buckling down and focusing on reducing debt. Mind you, we are not going to be denying ourselves everything, but we will be weighing each purchase against the chance to pay down the debt a bit more.

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There has been a lot of talk recently about how "Government employees make too much money" and how the number of  government employees making over $100,000 has increased in the last couple of years.

Here's an interesting factoid.

Even though I earn 66% more in this new job than I did in my old one, my billable rate, the actual amount of money that it costs for me to work on a project that includes not only my pay, but also insurance (health and unemployment), building overhead from rent/mortgage, the overhead of support personnel, paying for vacation and sick leave, etc, etc, etc., has only increased 23 CENTS over my previous job in the private sector.

Mull that one over the next time you hear people complain that government employees make too much money.

(EDIT: For the record, I do not make over $100K)
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For those that aren't aware, I drive what is commonly referred to as a "clunker". It is a 1991 Chrysler Le Baron Convertible, black, with a black top and a grey leather interior. It was a sweet car in its prime, but the years have not been kind to it. A previous owner had put it into a ditch, creasing a fender and warping the original rims. I have managed to fix some of the issues in the year or so that I have owned it, but some of them (like the body work) are too expensive, costing more than the car is worth.

While out shopping last night, we ran into a slight problem when I tried to start the car after finishing up at Hobby Lobby here in Huntsville. The key would not go into the ignition all the way, rendering the car unstartable. Try as I might, I could not get the key in, and unfortunately, my tools were at the house.  The problem was that the tumblers (the spring loaded little pins inside the lock cylinder that adjust to the contours of the key, and when in the right position, they allow the key to turn) had extended too far, and were blocking the key's path.

So, I had to call a mobile locksmith. This was $75, or about what a tow would have cost, but after about 15-20 minutes of him working on it, he managed to get the tumblers back into position (possibly wedged out of the way) and informed me that it was working, but he wouldn't trust it to not fail again, so I should get the cylinder replaced ASAP.

Now, if I were not mechanically inclined, I would most likely have dropped it off at a mechanic to get the work done, and this would have most likely set me back between $100-$150. But I AM mechanically inclined, so after he got it working again, I came home, used the power of the internet to find the part at a nearby parts store, then went and spent $19 on a new cylinder with key.

Today, I grabbed the Haynes repair manual, read up on what needed to be done and how to do it, and found what I thought were the needed tools. Well they were, but all I had was a bit driver with exchangeable bits to work with. This normally would be all I need, but the cowling on the steering column which I had to remove to get access to the ignition lock, had two torx screws buried deep inside of it, and the bit driver was too wide to fit into the access holes to get to them. So, a quick trip to Lowes and $11 later, I had a shiny new set of torx screwdrivers.

Once I had the proper tool, it took me about 10-15 minutes to remove the cowling, remove the old cylinder, put the new cylinder in, and reassemble everything. A quick turn of the new key, and the car started back up the way it was supposed to. :-)

So, to recap, I spent:
$75 on the locksmith to get the car temporarily drivable
$19 on the ignition cylinder and key
$11 on the new set of torx screwdrivers

Grand total $105

If I had just towed the car to the mechanic and let them deal with it, I would have been out:
$75-100 on the tow bill
$25 on the ignition cylinder and key (they add a surcharge to the parts)
$60-120 for the labor of fixing it (this depends on how long the manuals say the repair should take)
$60 for the cab fare / rental car while the car was in the shop

Grand total $220 - $305

The car now has two keys, one for the ignition and one for the doors and trunk, but it works so I won't complain. :-)
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Work is beginning to get less stressful now as I get more used to the way the Corps does things. In the intervening 11 years since I was last in uniform, I had forgotten just how much PAPERWORK the Army requires to do ANYTHING! lol!

I did a bit of musing on Twitter earlier this evening, and realized that many might get confused when I start talking about clients.

In the Corps of Engineers, we do work for Installations from all parts of the government, not just the Army. The program I work on has "clients" that are from the Air Force, the Army Reserve, the Navy, the Coast Guard, the Defense Logistics Agency, the National Guard, Army Materiel Command, and of course, the Corps of Engineers and the different Army posts world wide.

Speaking of the work I do, I also realized and tweeted about the fact that, even though the job that I do is not dirty, and therefore will never garner me a visit from Mike Rowe of Discovery's Dirty Jobs fame (I am sad about this), it is nonetheless important. My job is to help our clients discover ways to save money by reducing their energy usage. This not only allows commanders to spend more of their budgets on the soldiers, it also saves the taxpayer dollars.

We help our clients be more fiscally responsible by reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency.

(Of course, the majority of the efficiency measures we discover in the next few months will most likely not "break ground" until fiscal year 2013... 2012 if we are VERY lucky)

So yeah, it is not architecture, but the new job actually let me make a DIFFERENCE.  Feels kinda nice, you know?

*yawn*

Nov. 29th, 2010 11:39 pm
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Home again, Home again, jiggity-jig.

I go face splat into my pillow now.

Ponderings

Nov. 7th, 2010 10:25 am
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Things have been going fairly well here, aside from the issue of selling the house. We have had two contracts fall through.

The first was from where the buyer's real estate agent scared them off because they didn't understand the issues of an old house. The agent felt that things should be perfect, just like it was built yesterday, and anything that wasn't perfect meant that the house was going to burn or fall down any moment.

The second unfortunately had a home inspector find mold growing in the crawlspace, and backed out as a  result. We are getting quotes for having the mold remediated, and will take care of it, but it won't happen before the closing date, so no deal. Once the quotes come in, we will get the mold taken care of, but... still.

At this point, getting to the closing table this year is looking iffy. But, I am thankful that the new job pays well enough that we can afford (barely) to rent our place down here and live, while still paying the mortgage up there. Every month that the house goes unsold is another month that we own a tiny bit more leaving less to pay off.

So, until the house is sold, the finances are still tight as (insert favorite folksy-saying here).

Be that as it may, things are settling down at work. I am getting  better grip on my job duties, and am able to therefore keep more plates spinning at one time. I am still traveling a decent bit, which is nice since I make a little extra doing so, but not so much that my wife feels that she is single again. ;-)

She and I (mostly she) are getting the new place organized. We still have a good bit of stuff packed in boxes that are making the space feel junky. Until we make good bit more progress, any guest that comes gets to sleep on the couch, if there are two, it means an air mattress in the living room floor.

Since things are settling down, I have started to think about things I want to write about here, as well as other things outside this blog that I want to do. Some of them I can do, (write here on various topics, build shelves for storage round the house), others I can't until I get more room (set up my workshop, set up a model train layout), but things are getting closer to happening.

Of the things I can do, the shelves require some outlay of funds for material, as well as dedicating the time to collect my tools from the boxes they are packed away in before I can even start building, however they are first on the priority list. The writing here will come in smaller spurts prior to this, but will be more in depth afterwards.

All in all, we are blessed, and well positioned for what I see happening in the next 2-6 years (what exactly that is will be the topic of my future posts here). However for now, I am going to take a walk around this eminently walkable neighborhood we are living in with the wife, enjoying the crisp, fall air, and getting some sunshine therapy in. :-)

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So, I've been thinking recently. As many may know, I have a new job working for the Corps of Engineers in Huntsville. My job is a Project Manager, and I manage Energy Surveys of DoD installations worldwide as we do them. I have clients (the installations) to keep happy (they are spending money from their budgets to pay us to do the work as the "experts"). I have engineers to manage that actually do the work or supervise the contractors that do the work. I deal with contract negotiations, budgets, scheduling issues, all the same stuff that I would do on a building project. The work is interesting and enjoyable, I'm continually learning, I get to travel, and the pay, job security, and vacation time can't be beat.

The only perceived drawback is that there is no design/creative aspect to the job.

By training and profession (and job description within the COE system) I am an Architect. The Corps even pays for my license renewal every year, and makes sure I have the opportunity to get the Continuing Education I need to keep my license. Yet the skills that I use for this job are the ones that do not require design.

The interesting thing is, I am OK with that.

Why?

Because I can get my design "fix" elsewhere! Who says that I can only be creative at work? Most commercial / government / military architectural work doesn't really require a lot of creativity. Your time is spent squeezing every last penny you can out of the design by only doing the minimum work required to give the customer the same old building typology dressed up in a different rearrangement of the same tired architectural tricks.

If a building has a brick facade, it is NOT a requirement that all corners must have quoins! It is not a requirement that every restroom that has upgraded decor must have an Uba-tuba granite counter top with a white, raised bowl sink and a single handle brushed nickel faucet that has an extension on it to be high enough to flow into the sink. I do not have to have only flat paint on all interior wall surfaces.

By NOT having to do design at work yet still getting paid to keep up my knowledge, it actually frees my creativity. I can reserve it for sketching, drawing or painting. I can use it for creating the miniature environs of a model railroad accurately. I can build furniture. I can moonlight, doing only the work I WANT to do. I can design and create architectural follies, or my own versions of tiny houses. I can experiment.I can renovate an old house.

The point is, my creativity is not wasted churning out the same tired design reconfigured to fit the requirements of a new building.

I get the best of both worlds.

Job security and skills maintenance, without the restrictions of having to conform my creativeness to the least common denominator.  AKA...

"How much is THAT going to cost me?"

The possibilities!

(Addendum: I must note that the above is true for my position within the Energy Division. PM's of project that deal with design MAY get the chance to design in their daily job, however I am not certain as I have not seen the way they allocate work.)

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DRILL PRESS:
A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, denting the freshly-painted project which you had just carefully set in the corner where nothing could get to it.

WIRE WHEEL:
Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned calluses from fingers in less time than it takes you to say, "Oh, crap"

SKILL SAW:
A portable cutting tool used to make studs too short.

PLIERS:
Used to round off bolt heads. Sometimes used in the creation of blood-blisters.

BELT SANDER:
An electric sanding tool commonly used to convert minor touch-up jobs into major refinishing jobs.

HACKSAW:
One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle... It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

VISE-GRIPS:
Generally used after pliers to completely round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

OXYACETYLENE TORCH:
Used almost entirely for lighting various flammable objects in your shop on fire. Also handy for igniting the grease inside the wheel hub out of which you want to remove a bearing race.

TABLE SAW:
A large stationary power tool commonly used to launch wood projectiles for testing wall integrity. And used to remove ends of fingers and a thumb when your attention is anywhere but where it should be.

HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK:
Used for lowering an automobile to the ground after you have installed new brake shoes, trapping the jack handle firmly under the bumper.

BAND SAW:
A large stationary power saw primarily used by most shops to cut good aluminum sheets into smaller pieces that more easily fit into the trash can after you cut on the inside of the line instead of the outside edge.

TWO-TON ENGINE HOIST:
A tool for testing the maximum tensile strength of everything you forgot to disconnect.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER:
Normally used to stab the vacuum seals under lids or for opening old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splashing oil on your shirt; but can also be used, as the name implies, to strip out Phillips screw heads.

STRAIGHT SCREWDRIVER:
A tool for opening paint cans. Sometimes used to convert common slotted screws into non-removable screws and butchering your palms.

PRY BAR:
A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a 50 cent part.

HOSE CUTTER:
A tool used to make hoses too short.

HAMMER:
Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the most expensive parts adjacent to the object you are trying to hit.

UTILITY KNIFE:
Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on contents such as seats, vinyl records, liquids in plastic bottles, collector magazines, refund checks, and rubber or plastic parts. Especially useful for slicing work clothes, but only while you are wearing them.

Son of a Bitch TOOL:
Any handy tool that you grab and throw across the garage while yelling "Son of a bitch" at the top of your lungs. It is also, most often, the next tool that you will need.
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We have a contract on the house!

Friday afternoon, a couple put a semi-lowball offer on the house. We counter-offered on Saturday, and they accepted!

The end of October (they have to wait for their lease to end), we will go to closing, and there will be great rejoicing!

How did we get from listing to contract so quickly in this market without getting taken to the cleaners?

Easy! Well, not really, more like hard work!

You see, we took a gem of a house and put in the elbow grease to make it SHINE!

Then we priced it at a reasonable price point, one that lets up make a (potentially) teensy amount †

We hired a GREAT Realtor, Suzy Trotta of http://allaroundktown.com/ fame, and that was what it took!

Even in this market, a great house, at the right price, marketed right will sell. Promise!


† Depending upon the IRS' definition of what constitutes a member of the uniformed services, we may have the entire $7,500 stimulus forgiven because we sold the house due to getting orders stationing me at a location more than 50 miles from the house. If they decide that I, as a civilian Army Employee, who has orders, and military ID, etc, etc, am a member of the Uniformed services, which they define as: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, then I am golden!
tnrkitect: (Default)
I have now been at the new job for 3 weeks, and am just now starting to actually do any work relating to my job. LOL! It has been a seemingly endless procession of "you can't have access to this until you take this class" or "these are the 20 some odd mandatory classes you have to take as a new hire"

Anyways, today, I booked the flight, hotel and rental car for my first trip with the Corps. I will be flying to, of all places, Ft Riley, KS, where I was stationed while on active due back in the mid 90's.

It's funny, but the last time I was there, I was a lowly E-4 Specialist in rank. Now, I will be going back as a GS-13 civilian, which is considered equivalent in rank / duties to a Major. A slight improvement, no? :-)

I will be going along to act as the EEAP team representative when we debrief the post Director of Public Works and his staff on the results of the EEAP survey. What is EEAP? Glad you asked!

Energy Engineering Analysis Program — EEAP analyzes energy usage at installations and provides options for reducing energy consumption. Working with our partners, we completed energy surveys at eight Army installations in FY 2009. Since the program began in 2006, we have completed 24 surveys identifying approximately 2,204 potential energy saving projects when implemented; potentially saving the government $116 million per year in energy costs if implemented. (Note: the above figures do not include the projects completed in FY10, which ends September 30th, 2010) EEAP leverages expertise and capabilities of USACE and Department of Energy labs and other organizations.

This effort includes:
1. energy consumption assessments for selected facilities/installations,
2. evaluation, identification and recommendations of implementation options for energy conservation projects,
3. overseeing implementation of selected options,
4. assistance in sustaining local energy programs,
5. providing energy-related training, and
6. water conservation and waste water treatment.

My position with the Corps is as a Project Manager in charge of doing EEAP surveys for our "clients", army installations worldwide.

I will put together the team that surveys the installation, manage the creation of the report the team generates, debrief the installation personnel on the findings in the report, and most importantly, generate the DD form 1391's which are the Army's official means of determining what is worth being built.

The Corps explains it as such: "A DD Form 1391 is a construction project programming document used to scope, estimate, and justify all types of construction (MCA, OMA, NAF, etc.)"

Basically, the 1391 is a document that describes the potential project in a fair amount of detail, which when complete is ready to have the project funded and put out to bid for completion. By preparing 3 1391s for the installation, we are essentially giving them 3 turn-key energy projects that they can secure funding for that will aid them to meet the Army's sustainability and more importantly energy security goals that are required by policy.

Each army installation is required by policy to reduce their overall energy costs by 2015 to 30% below the baseline year of 2003, then continue on to become net-zero by 2030.

The EEAP program gives the installations a road map on how to achieve those mandatory goals, and I will be be providing that service.

Right down my alley, no?
tnrkitect: (Default)
Well, I am sitting in my mostly empty house here in Huntsville, AL. By mostly empty I mean that I have:

- 1 card table
- 1 folding chair
- 1 folding 16" x 30" side table
- 1 laptop stand
- 1 air mattress
- 1 fitted sheet
- 1 non-fitted sheet
- 1 16" sq. throw pillow
- 1 plate
- 1 bowl
- 1 butter knife
- 1 steak knife
- 1 fork
- 1 spoon
- 1 skillet
- 1 small pot
- 1 large pot
- 1 tumbler glass
- 1 pizza pan
- 1 computer
- 1 shower curtain
plus toiletries, and enough clothes and food to last me the week.

It's a bit lonely being here without Jessica, but I am headed back to Knoxville this weekend and she will be down shortly thereafter with our cat Annie. :-)

I am enjoying the new job so far, trying to digest a LOT of information. The Army does things quite differently from private A & E firms, and I am doing a LOT of reading trying to get familiar with it. This is aided by the fact that I do not have computer access at work yet. Why you might ask? Well, I do not have my Civilian Employee ID Card yet, and the computer uses a card reader and the ID to allow me to log on.

I have been issued a crackberry Blackberry Bold 9700, and have already been informed of when my first trip will be. I get to go to the DC area September 13th through 15th to observe and help with a Level Zero Energy Engineering Analysis Program (EEAP) survey at three bases in the area: Ft. Myer, Ft. McNair, and Ft. Meade.

They have also asked if I had my passport yet, but just for general knowledge, since they have no need to send me overseas, ...yet.

Anyways, I am looking forward to learning the new job, especially since we will be identifying problems then recommending their solutions in a structured plan to make the buildings on the bases in the Army more energy efficient,thereby helping the Army be better stewards of the monies allocated to them by Congress for building construction and maintenance. It will help the Army obtain energy independence, and reduce the government's dependence on foreign oil.

It's funny,the Army not only acknowledges peak oil, but is actively doing something to try and mitigate it's effects on their operations. Too bad the rest of the government is not as forward thinking.
tnrkitect: (Default)
A week from today, on Monday August 9th, I start my new job with the Corp of Engineers at the US Army Engineering Support Center in Huntsville, AL.

I will be doing energy assessments and overseeing the design and implementation of retrofits to existing army facilities worldwide.

Best part of it all, it means a 66% pay increase over what I was making at MBI!

Wish us luck, because we have to finish the house (see previous post) find a place to live, and move at least me down there in 1 week.

Uggh. But still, YAY!
tnrkitect: (Default)
Following is a list of everything we hope to accomplish prior to putting our house on the market. I have struck out the items we have completed.

- Convert current large closet in middle bedroom into two smaller closets, creating a new closet in the front bedroom.
-- Cut hole in wall to front bedroom.
-- Frame in door opening, supporting existing stud wall above 30" opening with a double 2x4 header
-- trim out door jamb to final dimensions
-- hang door, to include recessing hinges into jamb
-- build stud wall dividing the two
-- install wiring for new light in larger half of closet, with lighted switch.
-- hang drywall on stud wall
-- spackle and caulk all walls, drywall and existing plaster on lathe
-- spackle and caulk all joints and knots in door frame casing and trim
-- Kilz the walls in the middle bedroom closet
-- Kilz the walls and ceiling in the new front bedroom closet
-- Paint the walls in the middle bedroom closet - Olympic paints "Rose Dust" A30-3
-- Paint the walls and ceiling in the front bedroom closet Olympic paints "Crumb Cookie" C20-1
-- kilz the door frame, jamb and trim
-- paint the door frame, jamb and trim
-- partially strip and sand down "new" vintage door purchased at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore warehouse.
-- spackle and Kilz the door
-- paint the door Olympic "Crumb Cookie"
-- stain threshold
-- install threshold
-- install closet rod bracket & rod in new closet
-- install shelving in new closet
-- hang the door on the closet


- Living Room
-- spackle cracks in plaster
-- caulk windows and trim edges
-- kilz spackled areas
-- paint entire room Olympic "Rose Dust"
-- paint all trim Olympic "Trim White"

-- touch up ceiling with Olympic "Ceiling White"

- Hallway
-- spackle cracks in plaster
-- caulk all trim
-- sand spackling
-- kilz spackling
-- paint all walls Home Depot "Blue Hue" previous homeowner used
-- paint all trim Olympic "Trim White"

-- Touch up ceiling with Olympic "Ceiling White"

- Bathroom (Most of this was renovated back before Christmas)
-- touch up ceiling with Olympic "Crumb Cookie"

- Laundry Room
-- scrape peeling paint by door
-- caulk joints in the real bead board
-- kilz area being touched up
-- paint area Home Depot "Mountain Sage" previous homeowner used
-- touch up door


- Front Bedroom
-- spackle cracks in plaster walls and around new door to new closet
-- sand spackling
-- touch up / repaint room in color matched Olympic paint (color taken from sample of plaster removed when we cut the door in)
-- caulk trim and windows

-- paint trim and windows Olympic "Trim White"

- Kitchen (The cabinets were redone when we moved in 2 years ago)
-- touch up cabinets with Olympic "Crumb Cookie"
-- spackle cracks in plaster
-- sand spackling
-- kilz spackling
-- touch up wall paint with Home Depot color used by previous owner
--caulk trim and window
-- touch up / paint window and trim Olympic "Trim White" or Olympic "Black Magic"

- Middle Bedroom
-- spackle cracks in plaster walls
-- sand spackling
-- kilz spackling
-- paint walls Olympic "Ash Mist" D60-3
-- caulk trim and window
-- paint trim and window Olympic "Trim White"
-- touch up ceiling with Olympic "Ceiling White"

- Back Bedroom
-- remove peeling wallpaper previous owners had painted over
-- spackle wall as needed
-- sand spackling
-- kilz spackling
-- paint walls Olympic "Crumb Cookie"
-- caulk windows and trim
-- paint windows and trim Olympic "Trim White"

- Exterior windows (11 total - 9 done so far)
-- scrape peeling paint from all window trim
-- caulk as needed
-- paint windows trim Olympic Exterior "Trim and Accent White"

- door to crawlspace / basement
-- scrape peeling paint
-- replace portion of frame trim that is rotten
-- caulk and
kilz new wood
-- paint door and trim Olympic Exterior "Trim and Accent White"

- back deck
-- spackle knots in wood where they are showing through paint
-- sand spackling
-- kilz spackling
-- paint fixed areas

- Front porch
-- scrape peeling paint from ceiling, columns, downspout
-- clean and repair railing
-- caulk joints in ceiling

-- paint ceiling, door, columns, and railing Olympic exterior "Trim and Accent White"
-- clean porch floor
-- paint porch floor in Green left over from previous homeowner

- crawlspace / basement
-- fix insulation that is falling down from floor joists
-- fix drip in cold water line
-- build basement retaining wall

- yard - these are an ongoing process
-- weed and trim bushes around house to ensure they are not touching house
-- weed garden
-- mulch certain areas
-- replenish pea gravel walk in certain areas
-- keep yard mowed
-- trim back tree limbs from roof at back deck
-- make new slats for bench
-- kilz and paint new slats for bench
-- reassemble garden bench

-- gutter (today, late pm)
-- door frame on basement (today, next)

-- chimney (tomorrow, am)
-- low bricks (tomorrow, am)
-- fix fence post
-- closet shelf (today, pm)
-- sign for porch(today, pm)
tnrkitect: (Default)
  • 07:02 @scawood I would be happy w/ urban chickens next door. Law says no roosters, they eat bugs & give eggs #
  • 07:13 @scawood @BrianStrong Only if the owners allow them to be. Dogs can be nasty too, w/ bad owners. #
  • 07:36 @PhilipsGardco do you have a approx. 3ft high solar powered bollard for sidewalk illumination? #
  • 08:02 @SPACEarchitects ? for you: How do you deal w/ condensation on your cooling fins? Do you have an integral channel to catch it? #
  • 08:05 @SPACEarchitects the prev. Q is regarding the cooling fins in your Grove office. (the things you think of while showering) #
  • 08:38 @SPACEarchitects Ok, I can see that, yes, the humid summer will give it a test. thanks for responding! #
  • 08:39 @SPACEarchitects Happy Birthday! #
  • 09:36 You found an Ashwinder! RT: @markwschaefer: Found a small snake hiding in my fireplace. I guess you could say I had a hearth attack. #
  • 10:59 Pesky guerrilla street artists tag bldg across from TVA HQ in Knoxville su.pr/29dU1l (Hat tip to @JoshFlory ) #
  • 11:26 RT: @archiseek: Some fantastic dereliction here - a couple of churches I wouldn't mind converting to live in bit.ly/avjS1w #ireland #
  • 11:39 Good read! RT: @imadnaffa: Roger Ebert on architecture- The image of a man you do not see >bit.ly/dtvdIv #architecture #
  • 11:43 @TheMissinThread I figured you would would find MANY things you liked there. ;-) #
  • 12:01 @green_architect If you wish to show support to the school, why not? #
  • 12:12 @green_architect You are showing public support for the school, even if others may think you are keying in on the sports teams. ;-) #
  • 12:55 RT: @jonkolbe: JR Ewing is selling solar panels? #signoftheapocolypse bit.ly/aKzLpG #
  • 13:38 @suzytrotta time to move to your mobile office. ;-) #
  • 13:50 @stephenmontero I enjoyed the City of New Orleans the last time I took it. That was when they still had the full size dining car though. #
  • 15:51 Good question! RT: @fairsnape: Where are the cyberspace architects of today? bit.ly/bxW080 #
  • 17:46 Cherie Priest on Seattle's plan to dig a freeway under downtown. As one who fictionally destroyed it that way su.pr/2X0Utl #
  • 19:28 @threefourteen I like the smell of old spice & use the traditional scent in deodorant (wife likes it too :-) If I wore cologne, I'd use it #
  • 20:18 @DJBronxelf As I recall, there was GREAT REJOICING!!! <yay!> ;-) #
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tnrkitect: (Default)
  • 07:13 @SuButcher A bit late, but I last talked to a twitter contact on the phone on Friday. (not counting my wife ;-) #
  • 07:15 @laurabower So glad your Kitteh is home! #
  • 08:52 Amazon Prime account free for 1 year for those with a valid .edu email address (US only ) su.pr/4x84yY #
  • 15:43 @stephenmontero Have you even made it to Meridian MS yet? #
  • 15:46 @stephenmontero Ok, how about Tuscaloosa? #
  • 17:39 RT: @perspectivearch: I forgot to wax the 'stache before the meeting...oops; tinyurl.com/26vgnb9 Quirky indeed. ;-) #
  • 17:49 Currently Reading: Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service amzn.com/1603580646 Highly Recommend! #
  • 18:21 @jonkolbe trust me, you are preaching to the choir my friend. :-) #
  • 18:34 @jonkolbe Personally, I think geology will leave us with no choice. We HAVE to learn to do with less oil. #
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tnrkitect - Musings of an Unconventional Mind

June 2011

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