Tuesday, June 4

More house stuff

Progress on our new house keeps progressing. Next week the second coat of stucco, the brown coat it’s called, goes on. After it sits for a month, the color coat will be applied. We have stretched out the stucco process for as long as possible on the advice of our plastering man who says the longer each coat sits, the likelier it will be to last forever. The final coat will have some chemical magic in it that assures its integrity forever; we are told it will never crack.

The inside walls and ceilings are finished. Wallboard, texturing, priming and the final coat of paint are done. We were lucky to get the wallboard contractor we have. He does mostly commercial work and is a perfectionist. There isn’t a crooked edge or bulging wall to be seen. Next we will install the light fixtures, and our electrician will put in the smoke alarms and other such stuff. The air conditioning people will install all their vent louvers and thermostats. The plumber will install all the feed valves on the little copper pipes sticking out of the walls, put in the water heater, and faucets and things. The fireplace will get its facing, along with the gas log heater in the bedroom.

Nearly 4,000 continuous watts of free power will stream off these panels, sun willing.
Next we will be installing all the electrical fixtures and switches. We are having our electrician return to help us connect the solar panel array through its underground conduit, then route the wires in the garage to the batteries and inverters and stuff. He knows the building code requirements; we don’t. Then we drag about 200 feet of wire from the garage to the house through another big fat conduit. Finally we flip a switch and enjoy mother nature’s 100% organic solar electric power as it courses through an LED light bulb, one of the dozens that we’ll be using throughout the house.

It’s interesting how minimal your house's interior finish can be in order to be signed off by the county and you are given permission to occupy it (and start paying property tax on it!). After electrical inspection all we need is a toilet, a sink, a cookstove and waterproof flooring in required areas. We have to prove to the inspector that our shower floor is water tight, then we can tile it, along with both bathroom floors, the laundry, and finally the kitchen floor.
Mighty nice natural stone tile! This is a sample on display at the tile store.
We will make all our tile floors using stone in various colors and patterns.
After changing our minds at least a dozen times, we are going to be using natural stone for all the tiled floors. A business in North Fresno, Creative Tile, has some stunning examples of the stuff, and it’s hard to want anything else after seeing what they’ve done. The rest of the house’s flooring will most likely be solid maple. We are getting away from the idea of using wall-to-wall carpet anywhere, opting instead for some nice rugs where needed. Karla’s gorgeous Steinway grand piano will be sitting pretty in its own room on a Mayan-influenced wool rug.
The only wall not covered with wallboard. It will be covered in shiny black porcelain tile instead.
There will be tile on the Black Monolith wall between the entry and the Great Room. I want the tile to fit precisely on its wall without grout so it looks like the monolith shown in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick sci-fi movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie when the ape-men approached the mysterious monolith, they tossed their war clubs into the air and we are transitioned to the space age. (Does anyone out there know where we can get a couple of stuffed ape-men? Or at least a couple of clubs? We can put them next to the potted ficus tree.)

Next we have to build the very long front entry staircase and install safety railing on the back deck. It's been a year so far putting this whole project together and it looks like we still have a few months to go, giving ourselves enough time to change our minds at least a dozen times before doing any particular thing. Except, of course, the Black Monolith—that’s set in stone.

Smart advertising?

Lots of Web sites have advertising that appears alongside their regular content. Some of them accept and display ads that are delivered to them by sites you may have visited earlier. After I have been on a site like Audi.com/us drooling over their cars, Audi ads may appear when I’m on the Yahoo site for instance. Today an ad from The Home Depot appeared in a news site I visit daily. I had just ordered a total of nine eight-inch and twelve-inch white glass globe lights from them, so they thought it would be smart to push an ad to get me to buy some eight-inch and twelve-inch glass globe lights from them. Hey, Home Depot, I just did!

Monday, June 3


How many times do you see the word everyday used when the user means every day? When I went to school, the word everyday meant common, usual, ordinary: “He wore his everyday outfit, jeans and a t-shirt.” Contrast that to every day, which means each individual day. “Every day she drives to work except on weekends.” Several years ago I ran across a magazine ad for Toyota. The slogan they used was, “Toyota. Everyday.” I was shocked! I had worked for an advertising agency in my late twenties and was acutely attuned to using the correct words. I sent a letter to the agency that produced the Toyota ad and pointed out their misuse of the word. The very next week, the same ad appeared again, corrected to “Toyota. Every day.” (Even though corrected, it was still a dumb slogan in my opinion.)

On our bank’s Web site, they use the term Logout to close the online session. Logout is different from Log Out. Log Out is an action—when finished with whatever you’re doing on a site, you Log Out.

Not to be a fuddy-duddy, but during my life I have seen many terms change their form from two words to one, or even from several words to an expression using capital letters. Probably only a few of my readers will remember this one: LS/MFT. It was used by a cigarette brand and meant Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. The military term SNAFU comes to mind. LOL started out meaning Lots Of Love. Then it became Laughing Out Loud. What’s next? Liver and Onion Lunch? Lovers Often Lose?

Here’s one that may surprise you—did you know that the term “today” was as recently as the late 1940s expressed as To Day or To-Day? That was news to me when I discovered it while researching some old advertising.

I finally succumbed to the realization that in spite of my protestation, the world moves on. “Thingschange. Ohwell, getusedtoit,” Ithought. “Whatthehey any way.”

Wednesday, April 3

Busy day

To put in our solar power system we have to build a support structure to hold the 15 big panels. We were instructed by the engineers to dig 10 holes to hold the uprights, two-inch galvanized water pipe. Nine of the holes were easy; the tenth couldn’t happen without either dynamite or a bulldozer. I sent an email to the county plan checker in the engineering department and he wrote back saying to put some foot-long pieces of reinforcing bar into some six-inch-deep holes in the rock, then pour concrete on the whole thing to hold up the pipe.
Four pieces of rebar will anchor one of our solar array legs. I hope the banana taffy I used to glue them in holds.
Today I drilled four holes in the rock with our rotary hammer drill. The drill bit had put many holes in many rocks before, and was a teensy bit dull. So that means it takes longer. Way longer. So here I am, leaning on this chattering machine, watching as not chips, but powder, emerges from the holes. Oddly, neither my hands nor my arms got sore and tired. But my gluteus maximus sure did. All of ’em.
Pure dance. The shovel handler tosses wet stucco up to the platform, while the plasterers spread it on the wall. This is the garage—the house is finished.
Meanwhile the stucco guys slapped another ten thousand pounds of concrete onto the house. Those guys work in a way that would make a Broadway choreographer jealous. Not a wasted motion, just smooth coordination between the guy who tosses sand and cement into the mixer, dumps it into a wheelbarrow, and tosses the mixture with a flat shovel onto the big flat boards on the platforms way up in the air where more guys are slathering it onto the walls. It’s quite a show.

Not to be slighted work-wise, Karla used her favorite chainsaw to clear up a whole bunch of brushy messy wood from a gorgeous oak tree down the hill from the garage. So it was work, work, work today. We went home tired and satisfied. Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. Yay.

Cell phone pix: Tom

Tuesday, April 2

Such a deal!

I can’t believe those women just walked past such an opportunity to save.

Cell phone pix: Tom Hurley

Monday, April 1

Make a hole…

Tim directs as Luke eases the Bobcat onto our temporary platform
…times ten. Well, nine. When we started the project, we discovered that the little Bobcat hole digger can’t be used on too steep a slope without tipping forward. So we built a temporary platform out of a bunch of lumber and drove the Bobcat onto it. Worked like a charm.
A very nice hole, one foot in diameter by three feet deep was the result
One of the places where we have to put a leg of the solar panel support structure has a huge rock in it. There’s no way the auger could cut through it, so we are going to propose to the county building department that we put some little holes in the rock, stick bolts in them, then anchor a support for the solar panels to the rock.
We'll tell the inspector that this rock goes all the way to China
It took only a little over an hour to put in nine holes. Try that with a shovel!
As an aside, we discovered that the square tubing we have to use as part of the structure is over-long by almost double. It seems odd that the supplier, which supposedly cut everything according to their own engineering drawings, would be so far off. Waste of money, methinks.

Cell phone pix: Tom Hurley

Friday, March 29

Starting the solar project

Today we decided for sure where the solar panels will go. We also decided which “south” to use, what I like to call “local south.” It isn’t magnetic south which is 14° off true in these parts, and not even true south itself. Why? Because off to the east is a rather tall mountain that keeps the sun off our place till 8 or later in the morning, depending on season. To the west is a tall tree and the garage, neither of which we want to cut down. So we’re aiming the panels south-ish, slightly to the west, toward the middle of the southern exposure.

We will be digging ten holes a foot in diameter by roughly three feet deep. Each hole will hold a piece of pipe supporting a structure on which the panels will be secured. We have reserved a hole-digging machine for Monday, and in the meantime will be pouring water into little trenches surrounding the wooden stakes that mark the spots, hoping it softens the soil a bit.
In the background is the mountain that keeps the sun off of us for several hours in the morning.

Rocks are known to be in the area. When the trenches for water and power lines were dug, some rocks that you wouldn’t want to fall on your foot came out of the ground, one as big as a baby elephant, others the size of koalas and anteaters. And of course squirrel-size, dog-size, and horse-turd-size stones were abundant. I hope that’s all we find in the ten holes! we’re digging. Wish us luck.

Cell phone photo: Karla Hurley

Wednesday, March 27

Starting to look like a house…

Yesterday Kevin and his crew slapped “mud” on the house and it started to look really solid, not like a bunch of tar paper, expanded metal and chicken wire. Eight guys can move a lot of material and in this, their first day, they covered a lot of territory. But we got only one day’s work from them since they had to head off to San Francisco to finish another job. They’ll return next Tuesday and may wrap up the first of three coats by week’s end. Then we’ll wait several weeks to let it cure before adding more.

Karla is pleased to see so much stucco get slapped onto the house
At the west end of the house their scaffolding is four levels high. I asked him if they get nervous when they’re that far off the ground. “We did a job right smack up against a freeway in Hollywood that was eight levels,” he told me. “So this is no big deal.”