Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Due to the 12' baseboards lying on my front room floor and to the rest of the renovation mess, I didn't put a full-sized live Christmas tree up this year for the first time since 1998. No, I dug out and assembled the little Bottle Brush tree I purchased when I was a sophomore in high school back in 19-mumble-mumble, set it on top of my new old piano, and loaded it with as many ornaments as I could.

And festooned the potted rosemary shrub with a few more.

But for your delight and delectation, here's a vid of my tree from two years ago.

God willing, by this time next year I can take another tree video and all the woodwork you see will be stripped, refinished, and done.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Stroke of Doom

A few minutes ago, 12:26 AM, and my student AutoCAD program died for real. I was almost done doing up one last sketch elevation for my upstairs bathroom, when suddenly the command prompt froze and I couldn't get back to the layout to print it.

Fortunately, I had saved it to pdf in progress, but it's not as pretty as what I was working on.

Oddly, model space stayed with me for a few minutes more, and I got a screen shot of what I was doing.
Was going for a screenshot of something else I wanted to save, but I hit the zoom button the wrong way, and when I tried to zoom back in-- or was it out?-- everything in model space was gone.

. . . Just tried again. All the way out, all the way in. Nothing.

Well, with the pdfs and screenshot jpgs I've got my work in a form I can look at and hand-sketch over. But now that I've gotten used to this program, what are my options?

1. Buy the professional version, for $1,000 to $1,500 for the "lite" version; for up to $4,000 if I want all the 3D bells and whistles. Yeah, right.

2. Renew my student license, either through the tech school or a local retailer. That'd be a lot cheaper, but do I really want all my drawings to go on saying "PRODUCED BY AN AUTODESK EDUCATIONAL PRODUCT" for the next fourteen months?

3. Find work with an architect who has AutoCAD 2008 and who'll let me install a licensed copy on my home PC-- for the convenience of the firm, of course. At the moment, something might be happening along those lines . . . sorta . . . but the architect in question is running AutoCAD 2007. And I don't think I can convert files backwards.

4. Wait a year or two until AutoCAD 2008 is considered out of date and the price goes down. I mean, I won't be redoing my bathroom before then. And I have the pdfs in the meantime, if I want to dream . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


This past week I've been staring into the face of Doom. The expiration of my 14-month student AutoCAD 2008 license was looming up before me; yea and verily, an on-screen notice a couple days ago gave me to understand that at the stroke of the midnight just past my program would fold up like Cinderella's coach-and-four and I'd have no more access to the drawings I've been doing on my house.

So all day and all evening today-- yesterday the 16th-- I've been drawing and drawing and printing things out and saving things as pdfs and using this cute little app I have called FastStone Capture to get screenshots of all my plans and elevations.

So at 11:54 PM, I was thinking, Oh-oh, I never did a printable layout of my overall site plan-- I'll do it really quick. But first I had to go into model space and move all the drawings that were cluttering the site plan up [Brief explanation-- in AutoCAD, "model space" is the window where you do the actual drawing. It's like having a drafting board that goes off into infinity in all directions, and you draw on it full-size, as in 1" = 1". It's on the layout tabs that you scale things for printing.]

All right, I got my site plan decluttered. I created and named a new layout tab for it, but when I opened the viewport, nothing was there! I tried zooming in and out to find it, but all I had was white space and the X-Y axis marker! Huh?! Is this what happens when your license runs out while the program is open? Everything on your layouts disappears?

No fair! It's only 11:57!

Uh, no, checked the caller ID on the phone. 12:01 AM. Oh.

Nothing I can do about it now. So I opened my documents file and checked the pdfs and jpgs I'd stored. Pretty good job of getting them all filed away . . . then I switched back to AutoCAD.

Hmm, funny. I could still open model space. And draw in it. And look, some of the layout tabs were showing just what they ought to. Does the program close down piece by piece, bit by bit?

Short answer, no. Turns out it's my own fault I can't see most of my drawings-- they got disassociated from their layout pages when I moved all those plans and elevations in model space.

I was trying to get them back where they belonged when I suffered a Fatal Error and had to close the program.

Yes, it opened again. And the on-screen notice said my license expires tomorrow. Meaning today, but long enough for me to stop cranking and get some sleep. I'm not turning into a pumpkin quite yet.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Furnace Update

The furnace is fixed. Apparently. I hope.

No heat all day Saturday. That afternoon I made a batch of sugar cookies, but 350 degrees in a modern oven doesn't do much to warm up the kitchen, let alone the house. The house temperature went down to 44 and stayed there.

Oh, well, the cookies rolled and cut out beautifully on the marble board. No trouble with sticky dough at all.

In the meantime, I turned off the pilot light and the gas to it. No point in running it if it wasn't going to do any good.

Just as an experiment, though, I turned the ignition back on around 7:30. Went upstairs to make some phone calls, came back down twenty minutes later, and hey, presto! the furnace was on! And proceeded to run the thermostat up two degrees above its setting.

No complaints about that. Went to bed, woke up yesterday morning, and the furnace was off. Again. 50 degrees and dropping. 49 degrees by the time I left for church.

It was a very good day to have things scheduled outside the house until nearly 7:00 PM. I returned to find the inside temperature stabilized at 43 degrees (21 outside). Made another batch of cookies. And lots of hot tea. The coldest part was unloading the dishwasher. Those stoneware plates and bowls were freezing!

A bit before 11:00 PM, I tried the ignition again. Just for fun. And what do you know? the heat kicked on! I goosed up the thermostat to a temperature I figured would require the furnace to stay on all night and not cycle off, and apparently it worked. I still had heat this morning.

But that didn't solve the problem of why the system wasn't working properly in the first place.

Around 8:00 this morning, I got a call from the heating and cooling people. A third person, different from either I'd spoken to before, was on the line. "Your heat is off?" he asked.

"Wait a minute," I temporized. (I admit it-- I was still wrapped in my warm covers, putting off getting up and out into the cold.)

I went downstairs to check the thermostat (the register in the bedroom never gives much heat; no point checking that). 59 degrees. "Let's say I have intermittent heat." And I described what had been going on.

"Could it be your air filter?"

What? I went through this with their other guy on Friday!

"No, I just replaced it less than a month ago."

"It still could be dirty."

"I checked it on Friday. It's gray, but not filthy."

"Do you have a programmable thermostat? Maybe it's just the program cycling off."

"No, I don't have it set that low!"

"Well, maybe it's the factory settings."

I about lost it. "Nooooo!!! At 43 degrees?!" Good grief, man, don't patronize me! And don't you guys communicate? I went through all this with your colleague the day before yesterday!

"Well . . . "

"Do you have the serial number?" I asked.

Of course he didn't. He didn't have anything. But he said, "I'll be out within the hour."

More like an hour and a half. The serviceman was younger than I'd visualized. Funny, but his questions had made me imagine a middle-aged, burly, "I've-got-all-the-answers-and-the-homeowner-knows-nothing" type. I apologized for having lost my patience with him (if other people are acting like idiots, no point in being an idiot yourself) and showed him downstairs.

Having turned off the furnace, he turned on the now-futile ignition. "This unit doesn't have a pilot light," he said.

"But I saw---"

"It's not on all the time. It's got an electric ignition. Did you hear this clicking when it wasn't turning on?"

I listened. "Yes, but I thought it was the metalwork rattling or something" (guess this homeowner doesn't know everything!) "You mean it's like the burners on my gas stove?"

Yes, indeed. Having fished my calico cat out of the bowels of the furnace, I took myself and her upstairs and left him to it. And after a few minutes of poking and prodding, after him having me jack the thermostat up to see what that did, after some turning off and on of switches, the serviceman called me back down the basement.

"It was your ignition sensor. Your pilot light was coming on, but the sensor couldn't tell, so it wasn't turning the gas on. I've cleaned it, and I've shut the furnace off and on twice to make sure. Here, I'll do it again." He hit the switch (which is, as I'd recalled, at the breaker box) off, then on. The furnace shut off, then powered back up. "I think that was it."

And apparently it was. He took the home warranty call fee and went on his way.

And God willing, that will do it. Though I can see that getting somebody out to clean the whole shebang wouldn't do any harm. But not this firm, most likely. I'd like somebody who's a little better at internal communication.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Enforced Energy Conservation

This is what my thermostat read when I came downstairs this morning:

I assure you, I am not that energy conscious. Nor that cheap.

My dad was that cheap. He removed the furnace from his house entirely and got through the Midwestern winters by wearing his overcoat constantly and running space heaters in closed rooms. He swore he wasn't going to give the gas company any more than he absolutely had to.

I, too, economize on energy. But not that much. I routinely set the thermostat back to 55 degrees at night and stay warm and cozy under five covers and three cats. But by 8:37 in the morning I really do expect the temperature to be heading back up towards 61.

Wednesday morning, the thermostat said 53 degrees when I got up, but the furnace straightened itself out. Probably had nothing to do with the fiddling I did with the fan switch.

Thursday morning was a bit warmer outside: no trouble with the heat.

Friday morning, yesterday, the outside temps dove back into the mid-20s. And my thermostat read 52 degrees. Then 51.

I called the home warranty people, who had a heating and cooling repair company call me. Yes, sir, the furnace motor is going. No, sir, the fan and the gas burner are not running. Yes, sir, the pilot light is on. No, sir, I can't seem to find the switch for the furnace motor. Yes, sir, I've found the label inside the furnace . . . oh, look, I think it says this unit was installed in 1987! No, sir, that is really not surprising, it was my POs-1 who put in the forced air system . . . No, sir, I still haven't found the switch you describe . . . oh! look! the burner and the fan just came on!

That's good, the heating guy said, because they were pretty booked up that day. Call them back on Monday to let them know if they should still come out.

I did not wait till Monday. Not with the thermostat reading 46 degrees F. Not with it again in the 20s outside. A number of calls and some futile fiddling with switches later, the maintenance guy has determined the problem is the module. Which he can't get till Monday. And hopefully it's not some other part I forget the name of: that'd mean replacing the whole furnace.

(Though given that I have a replacement warranty, that might not be a bad thing. Even the sort of bog-standard furnace the home warranty company will pay for has got to be more energy-efficient than the unit I've got!)

Meanwhile, I get to rough it through the weekend and most of Monday. Baking Christmas cookies was not on today's calendar. But, um, I think I just changed my plans . . .

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

As Builts

According to my doctor, I've contracted The Bronchial Crud That's Going Around. Doesn't make me too fit to strip woodwork these past couple of weeks. But maybe that's just as well, since my student AutoCAD license expires on the 17th of this month, and after that I won't be able to open the program, let alone practice on it or play with it.

But as long as I've got it, I'm using it to document some features of the house, and maybe to work out some ideas I have for the upstairs bathroom.

The last couple or three days have been devoted to doing an as-built drawing of the living room fireplace. It certainly is a unique feature of the house; I'm thinking it wouldn't be a bad thing to have a measured drawing of it stored off-site in case anything happened.

Here's the results so far. So far and maybe no farther. I've left off the surface ornament, but I've got plenty of photos to show that.
But did I say this was an "as-built"? Not exactly. My fireplace exhibited the same phenomenon as did my staircase-- regardless of how many measurements I took, no matter how often I checked and double-checked them, I couldn't get all the dimensions to agree. In some places it's as much as an inch off, but I can't adjust that inch without throwing other dimensions into chaos. I tell myself it's because the mantelpiece has settled and it's out of true. But not that far out of true! Surely, I'd notice it if it were. It'd drive me crazy looking at it if it were!

But it doesn't. I don't know . . . one more instance of the house keeping its secrets . . .