October 31, 2006

Front Door

Filed under: House Blog, Tools — marcstober @ 7:09 pm

Fall 2006 031Just in time for Halloween, we have a freshly painted and fully functioning front door. See below for advice on paint and caulk guns, but first some editorial content.

When we bought the house, we were only given back door keys, and the old mortise lock (probably original) felt like it was one jiggle away from falling off the door. I know what you’re thinking – this is the suburbs, people enter their houses from the driveway. But I like to use the front door, and always have, ever since I let myself in that way when I got off the school bus. So what if I’m the only one in my family who enters my parent’s house that way? Now that I take the train home, I like to use the front door, too – especially now that it gets dark early and it’s dark in back.

We’ve made a few improvements, like installing a bracket for an American flag and a new doorbell we bought at Restoration Hardware on our second night in the house. The biggest improvement was hiring a locksmith to get the old lock working. It took him a while to rebuild it, but was still a lot cheaper than buying anything that looked as nice as the original one. So now we can actually go in the front door. (I suspect this will be particularly important when the kitchen is being renovated and maybe we can’t get in that way.)

I did some pre-winter maintenance as well, like painting the house numbers white (for visibility), and installing little solar floodlights so you can see the house number and steps, which are not well illuminated even when the front lights are on. I sealed some cracks in the steps and caulked and painted the front door. I think the old wood front door adds character to the house and a thick layer of glossy black enamel brings it out even more.

On the advice of (someone – Hammerzone I think, but can’t find it now), I got a professional quality caulk gun. Fortunately, professional grade caulk guns are still under $20, It does make it easier to get good results. I also used Benjamin Moore paint. I think it really is better that the Behr paint (which I basically consider the store brand) at Home Depot. The big soapstone sink in the basement with garden-hose pressure made quick work of cleaning my brushes, too (although buying new brushes every time has got to be better for the environment than using all that water).

Finally, I did some work to restore the appearance of the lock. There are 12 brass slotted screws on the outside, and the locksmith replaced the missing ones with drywall screws. This was functional, but I replaced those with matching brass screws. Even this turned out to be more work that I’d thought because it turns out that the screws around the cylinder where shorter (because of the mechanism behind) than the others, and I needed to cut the screws and wedge in little pieces of plastic anchors for them to stay in the stripped openings. (They must just be decorative anyway. Even back in 1920, I think they were smart enough not to build a lock you could just unscrew from outside!)

Eventually we want to rebuild the whole front porch and steps. Until then, I think Cheryl is still using the back door. 🙂

October 23, 2006

I passed my Microsoft test!

Filed under: Personal Blog, Software Blog — marcstober @ 9:54 pm

I passed Microsoft certification test 70-536 this morning! It was hard. This test is not about C#, ADO.NET, ASP.NET, or Windows Forms. It’s about the .NET Framework, and such diverse topics as threading, graphics, and sending e-mail. There isn’t any one book or training program that covers it all (except the test prep material). I reviewed with a great practice test from Transcender, which helped – their practice tests are even harder than the real tests.

October 18, 2006

More specifically, the kitchen sink

Filed under: House Blog — marcstober @ 1:15 pm

In my last post, I mentioned buying a kitchen sink. You might ask, why did we buy a sink already? Shouldn’t we wait until we’ve decided on a layout or even countertop? Admittedly we did by an undermount sink that would limit our countertop options.

I think it made sense. The sink is where the size and shape really matter. We wanted a larger-than average, single-bowl model, to fit more dishes and larger pots, and because we didn’t want to have to move food scraps from the side without a disposer to the side with (double bowls are trendy, but it’s gross).

Countertops are flat. You are more choosing a look than what you can put on it. (I know there are other factors, but even so.) If we needed a cheap way to install an undermount sink, I figured I’d buy a slab of butcher block at Lumber Liquidators. Besides, we weren’t going to get a tax-free sink otherwise!

October 16, 2006

…and the kitchen sink

Filed under: House Blog — marcstober @ 3:48 pm

We’ve had a range, dishwasher, hood and, yes, the kitchen sink crated on our back porch since August. We bought them during the Massachusetts sales tax holiday, and I’ve been meaning to blog with the “and the kitchen since” cliché since then.

and the kitchen sink

The original plan was – since we can’t afford a big renovation – to just replace the appliances. Which turned into, “let’s replace the appliances and put in another $1000 to spruce things up.” Then, “let’s replace the appliances and floor, and put in another $1000,” and so on, until we had a budget in the low 5 digits and a year of weekend projects, all for what would amount to window dressing on fundamentally the same 1950’s kitchen.

So we started looking for contractors. Stay tuned for what we found…

October 12, 2006

Zillow on the value of home improvements

Filed under: House Blog — marcstober @ 12:38 pm

There’s some good information on Zillow about the value of home improvements.

It shows a lot of specifics, including multiple levels (mid-range, upscale) for certain improvements, details of the work performed, and job cost and cost recouped. The numbers match what we’ve heard locally. The kitchen renovation we’re planning fits in between their mid-range and upscale descriptions and costs; some architects and builders have told us that a two-story addition with a bedroom/bathroom will add more value than just a family room; and I’ve sense that to complete the upscale window replacement (which the previous owners did upstairs only) isn’t a particularly great investment.

Whenever I hear payback numbers I wonder where they come from. We are improving the home with the intent to live in it for a while, after all, so it’s not all about resale. Zillow’s business of making this information free is appealing, but I still don’t know what’s behind them and their numbers.

October 11, 2006

Paying for something when you can get it for free

Filed under: Business, Software Blog — marcstober @ 3:22 pm

Are companies rejecting open-source software because it’s free? I don’t think so.

Companies (and non-profits) like to cut costs. They do not pass over free (as in dollars) anything if it will meet their needs. Getting companies—particularly small companies—to pay for support on something that’s not broken is a hard sell.

I just read in the Register about SpikeSource, whose business is to charge a subscription for “certified” versions of software you can download for free. The article says this will be valuable to “SME end users,” but I wouldn’t bet on it. Small businesses will find more valuable uses for their cash.

There’s a myth that companies don’t use open source software because it’s free. In my experience, the commercial competitor actually needs to offer some additional feature or service. If there’s a company that will pay for something they can get for free, I’d like to know about it.

October 3, 2006

Subaru Knows Its Customers

Filed under: Personal Blog, Software Blog — marcstober @ 12:51 pm

Knows they are musicians and software developers, that is. The new features for the 2007 Outback are interfaces for music devices and a driving feature called S#. (Background: Microsoft first used the “sharp” symbol outside of a musical notation, naming their flagship programming language “C#”.)