Why we live close to Ace Hardware

Although not intentional, we have, for the last three houses anyway, lived within a mile of an Ace Hardware store.  Which is good, because we can just run down there and get whatever we need to keep the house running.  And bad, because we have to, often.

One of the joys of old houses is that every repair and upgrade is a major remodeling adventure, which means there is no way to know just what is behind that switch plate or faucet until you open it, and then it becomes a can of worms.  Everyone knows that a can of worms, once opened, cannot be re-closed–you need a bigger can.

Our “new” old house in Washington is a classic late 1920s bungalow that has been kept in fairly original condition, with a few minor upgrades.  One of which was the replacement of most of the light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps.  Well, the kitchen had two fairly modern ceiling fixtures, each of which contained exactly one 13-watt CFL.  Now, I like a candlelight dinner as much as anyone, but cooking by candlelight just doesn’t quite have that same ambiance.  Besides the dim glow from the ceiling fixture, and the equally dim glow from the old fixture over the sink, the stovetop light under the microwave was one shade above total darkness.

The stove top light had one burned-out lamp and one that was completely black from tungsten boil-off, which, in fact, blew out promptly just from the vibration of opening the lamp cover.  The friendly Ace guy reminded me to buy two, because the other one isn’t far behind.  I said it was too late, and resisted buying three.

The increased illumination on the stove top helped, a little, but we decided that track lighting, while not authentic to the era, would at least blend well with the modern appliances and solve our problem.  So, off to Lowe’s, 25 miles away, for a bigger selection.  We returned home with a nice brushed-stainless 6-lamp model that promised to put at least 5 times more light on the work surfaces.  OK, it takes 24 times as much electricity, but we only run it when we are working in the kitchen, and it’s a matter of safety working with knives and hot pans, not to mention being able to see well enough to clean the work surfaces.

So, I unpacked our new lamp, studied the instructions, turned off the circuit breaker, and popped the shade off the existing lamp, something that would be more at home in a small bedroom or bathroom than a working kitchen.  The first hint of trouble was the mounting–two huge, widely-space screws that obviously went into the ceiling, rather than the usual fixture box spacing.  OK, drop the fixture, finding two sets of wires and a cluster of wire nuts nestled snugly against a nest of slightly charred and crumbly 85-year-old wooden lath, in the middle of a large and irregularly-shaped hole in the equally crumbly beaverboard that constituted the ceiling material.  The ceiling had been textured in the knock-down, crudely smeared style that young moderns associate with old houses–without removing the light fixture, so there is a large ridge of plaster with flaking checkered wallpaper in a circle a couple times larger than the new fixture mount.  At this point, I simply put the old fixture back up and turned the breaker back on, expecting the whole ceiling to burst into flame, and started preparing supper one more time in the gloom.

The next morning, bright and early off to Ace, where they still sell rework boxes, commonly called a “plaster box.”  Carefully positioning the box to both fit in the hole in the beaverboard and admit the wires poking through the wood lath, I screwed the box to the lath, in several places.  The surrounding, much larger hole in the beaverboard and the unsightly ring of crumbly wallpaper with its plaster-ridge border will be a project for another day, and yet another trip to Ace.  One must ponder these things, as there is no quick remedy other than ripping out the entire ceiling, rewiring, and replacing the beaverboard with sheet rock.  So, if you look closely, the decorative medallion surrounding the new light fixture will appear to be a foam picnic plate with a hole cut in the middle, which, in fact, it is.

After fastening the ends of the light bar to the ceiling (at least, the expanding plastic plugs for the screws work in beaverboard–they don’t always in lath and plaster) and installing the six energy-sucking halogen lamps, we flipped the switch.  Let there be light!  We spent the next 15 minutes or so scrubbing the stove, now that we could actually see it.

The companion fixture to the old one, centered over the breakfast nook, glows pale in the corner.  It’s on the list for replacement, next trip to Lowe’s, but I’m not looking forward to discovering what’s behind that fixture.  Count on at least one more trip to Ace–after we open it.

Hacking the Oregon Loom

A couple years ago, we acquired an Oregon Loom, a plans-built 4-harness counterbalance loom.  The person we bought it from had built it a couple decades ago, but we’re not sure it was ever functional.  We brought it home as a pile of sticks, scavenged out of the owner’s garage attic.  Most of the metal parts were damaged or missing, but the plans came with it, so I made new parts and got a working loom.  We have since added a commercial jack loom to the mix, and Judy wants to convert the counterbalance loom into a rug loom.  But, the Oregon loom was designed to be constructed of finish-grade dimension lumber in fir, so we weren’t sure if the device was quite up to the task of beating rug-weight weft.  One of the Missoula Weaver’s Guild members said to add metal bars to the beater for added weight and strength, so we bought some angle iron and strap iron at Ace Weaving Supply (aka Ace Hardware), and then promptly stored the whole loom while we recarpeted and then got ready to move.

So, today, I dragged out the angle iron, with the moving stickers still on the pieces, and cut one to fit the back side of the beater, measuring precisely to fit over the existing carriage bolts.  Then, I had to cut the angle at each end so I could tighten the wing nuts.  The pneumatic die grinder with a cut-off wheel is a bit faster than a hacksaw, and easier on the arms.  After testing the fit, it looks like it adds enough weight and stability that the one angle piece might just do the trick.  But, home-built machines are always a work in progress–the nice part is, you can always modify them and repair them, because you had to make all the parts in the first place.

Ubuntu upgrades

Well, as much as we hate to take down a production system, maintenance has to be done.  Earlier this week, it became obvious that some of our applications, like OpenOffice and others, could stand a bit of upgrading to get new features, so we undertook the always scary and sometimes painful steps to upgrade our Ubuntu workstations from 8.10 to 9.10.  Of course, this involves two upgrades for each machine, first to 9.04 and then to 9.10.

The first phase is complete, and both machines are now at 9.04, with few consequences:  My development machine needed to have the Apache configuration file tweaked, as I keep the webs in a slightly different place.  And, Judy’s machine somehow announced it wasn’t going to start the HP printer management tool for her new multi-function printer.  But, it still prints and faxes and scans, so I’m not sure if it is all that important, but I suppose we’ll have to find it and reconfigure after the whole upgrade is done.  The only scary part was a brief glitch in the power while the desktop machine was downloading packages, but the UPS held…  Good idea to test those before a major upgrade, as dumping power in the middle of an upgrade can ruin your whole day.  Yes, we do keep backups.  I do the laptop manually, since it isn’t always connected, but the desktop machine does hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly snapshots to the external drive we use for backups.

Update:  OK, spent all day Friday downloading the 9.10 update on my Compaq C714NR laptop, finally rebooted at 8:00pm and, of course, the wireless is broken again, which happens about every other Ubuntu update with the built-in Broadcom 4318 chip.  Part of the problem seems to be the crutches applied last time, but always something new.

Not only does the wireless not work, but the machine emits a loud clicking noise every few seconds.  I did get that to go away after I switched to wired connection, but after fiddling with the ndiswrapper and drivers for the wireless, it is back.  Now, I am a great fan of Linux, and have used it for 14 years, but some days it is a bit too on the edge.  Oh, the distros are plenty stable enough, but there are still problems with certain hardware peripherals that are not well supported.  Broadcom products fall into this category.  I’m not faulting HP/Compaq or Linux on this one–I’ve been a professional sysadmin for those 14 years, managing Solaris, Tru64, and other commercial Unices as well as Linux.  A few years ago, I had an IBM x-series server with a Broadcom Ethernet card in it that I had to build the driver from source for RedHat, and then it broke on a kernel upgrade and wouldn’t recompile.  I had to upgrade the entire system from RHEL3 to RHEL4 and port the 3rd-party application running on the server to get the system back up.   The market is full of otherwise good hardware with brittle firmware and drivers written by folks who don’t really understand how Unix works and couple their code tightly to specific library versions rather than the basic interfaces and system calls.

So, here we are, Saturday morning, trying to get wireless back up on our main development and road machine, for a road trip coming up the middle of next week.  The Ubuntu forums are great, but always just one person’s experience, which doesn’t always work for the next guy, depending on exact hardware, whether the system is a fresh install or upgrade, etc.  In my case, some of the problem appears to be left-over hacks from an earlier upgrade.

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum

A little over a year ago, I got a letter from Carl Rohr, a well-known quilter in western Montana, inviting all Montana men who quilt to participate in a group quilt and traveling exhibit.  The only requirement was to provide a 12-inch (finished size) block “in cotton or batik.”  OK…  Well, as expected, Carl got almost a dozen very different blocks., in all different colors and styles, from traditional to unique to “arty.”  What he did with them is nothing short of astounding.  I could describe it, but you have to see it.  String piecing skillfully transitioned from one color theme to another; a center medallion section surrounded by blocks randomly set in a nine-patch background, and “Montana Men Quilt” spelled in fussy-cut letters down the right side.

The quilt debuted at the Mission Mountain Quilt Guild show in Ronan, where Carl lives, and, with a collection of individual quilts made by each of us,  made the rounds of quilt shops in Missoula and Great Falls, a display at the Bitterroot Quilters Guild, and finished up at the Flathead Quilt Show in Kalispell in September 2009.  Then, Carl entered the group quilt for consideration in the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum’s biennial Men’s quilting exhibit, and it was accepted.  The exhibit runs from Februrary 2 through April 30, 2010 in RMQM’s new facility in downtown Golden, Colorado.

Now, this is, for us guys anyway, a Big Deal.  You would think that quilts by men would be rare and they would take all they could get, but not so–there are a lot of very talented and skilled quilt artists out there who just happen to be men.  I entered the quilt I made for the traveling show, and it didn’t make the cut.  But, I’m glad to be part of the group effort.

The 2009 Montana Men Quilt group quilt
The 2009 Montana Men Quilt group challenge

My contribution is the airplane block in the lower right center. The block above it was made by John Flynn, nationally-known quilter from Billings, MT.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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