06 September 2017

Helpful Hints for a Happy House: Fire

Let me be abundantly clear: This is a general guide. I don't know what your local building codes require. You should check them, since I didn't.

Despite a proclivity to starting non-destructive fires, I'm actually quite paranoid about unintentional fires. Southern California is a hotbed for wildfires, and we happen to live in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone.1 Every year, the fire department encourages brush clearance via threats of fines and exorbitantly high removal fees. And yet an alarmingly highly number of my neighbors still have wood shake rooves covered in pine needles, despite Los Angeles banning them in 1989.2 Burbank is actually making people remove them,3 while my neighbors ignore maintenance to avoid triggering replacement requirements. So how do I sleep in this tinderbox neighborhood? Smoke alarms! Smoke alarms EVERYWHERE!

There are two different types of smoke detector sensors - photoelectric and ionization. The National Fire Protection Association recommends using a combination of both.4 There are dual sensor detectors, but only one of the sensors has to pass to get the unit certified.5

There are also different ways to power alarms: high-voltage, low-voltage, and batteries. If you have user-replaceable batteries, change them every six months. I put a reminder on the calendar and change every single one at the same time. If one alarm decides it wants to have its batteries replaced early, it still gets the regularly scheduled replacement. Saving an extra battery or two is not worth the hassle it would become after a few years.

Speaking of replacements, the actual alarms need to be replaced about every ten years. Each unit should have a replacement or manufacturing date. Again, I recommend changing every unit at once.

You know that little "TEST" button that you are supposed to hit once a month to deafen yourself? Well, the good news is it tests the alarm. The bad news is it doesn't actually test the sensor. Smoke, like that sold in aerosol cans, is the only way to test the smoke sensor.6

Some alarms can be interconnected, either wired or wirelessly. If one senses smoke, they all go off, making them better at alerting occupants.7 Usually only alarms from the same company will talk to each other.

There are other features, such as internet connectivity, built-in carbon monoxide detectors, and easily accessible battery compartments that don't require taking the entire damn thing apart. Our house sports heat detectors interconnected with the smoke detectors,8 though we narrowly escaped installing the residential fire sprinklers required for new builds in California.9 If our landscape sprinkler system ever gets fixed, we'll probably get a controller that also connects to the smoke detectors so the grass doesn't get charred.

My final recommendation is to clean your dryer vent and duct. Lint gets past the screen and builds up over time, creating a fire hazard.10

25 August 2017

The New SMS Protocol

It's no secret that missed doctor appointments cost doctors oodles of money.1 For some reason, doctors don't like this, so patients receive oodles of appointment reminders. Mailed reminders and phone calls are quickly becoming things of the past, in favor of cheaper alternatives often bundled into existing medical scheduling software. There are lots of obvious plus sides for the doctor, but what about for the patient?

Doctors are on the very short list of people who get my cell phone number. I don't want to play telephone tag when waiting for biopsy results. Plus there are all those nifty laws requiring doctors to keep personal information safe. I felt I could trust them. That trust crumpled under an avalanche of text reminders.

I received the first from Dr. Plastic Surgeon, alerting me to an upcoming appointment. In a week. I was miffed, but that was nothing compared to my mood after I received one the day before and the day of. I did not miss that appointment, if only to have a little chat with the receptionist.

Dr. Dentist and Dr. Optometrist soon followed suit, and I had more little chats. It's the same story every time. "We didn't text you, our scheduling software did." Somehow not a single office administrator understood their office is ultimately in control of said software, from purchase to configuration to use. Medical offices should not be hiring anyone who exhibits this level of cognitive inertia.

Some doctors also have my email address, usually for sending me forms to fill out ahead of time. On top of appointment reminders, I'm also receiving workshop bulletins, surveys, and my personal favorite, new product announcements. Every single one of those gets reported as spam. Every single time.

New patients fill out extensive questionnaires including contact information. Most of them very specifically ask if they can leave phone messages and with what level of detail, such as test results. Where was this level of concern when someone clicked "Yes" next to "Send text message reminders?" It's much easier for a random person to see an SMS snippet with a doctor's name on a phone screen than it is for a random person to listen to someone else's voice mail. I can't wait for the first lawsuit due to the wrong person seeing a text reminder for an obstetrician.

28 July 2017

Now in Laser Vision!

I had Lasik nearly a decade ago. A brief cost-benefit analysis indicated I should do it regardless of price, I did it. As my astigmatism was carefully seared away, perfect vision emerged. In fact, it was even better than perfect! I was the proud owner of 20/15 vision! Note the "was."

About 8.5 years later, I noticed my vision was decreasing in precision. I wasn't happy, but my hefty Lasik fee included free enhancements for life*, which is just marketing-speak for doing the same procedure again. I went in for an eye exam. The good news? Sufficiently thick corneal tissue. The bad news? Waiting six months.

Dr. Lasik has the crazy notion that only those with stable vision should get their eyes lasered. Since my vision wasn't checked for longer than I care to admit, the only way to prove stability was waiting six months and getting another exam. In the mean time, I wore glasses.

I'm not known for patience. And yet, I survived for EIGHT months, due to some paperwork problems involving digging my old chart out of a sub-basement under a bridge. The last couple months were touch and go, but I digress.

You must have a valid driver/competent adult to take you home, and in return they get to watch everything on a large tv provided. Pictures are even allowed, so time for explicit eyeball surgery!

⚠️ Warning: Explicit eyeball surgery!

Step one is confirming that the  eyes do in fact exist. To keep things that way, 5 dots are drawn on each eye. Or maybe it was to carefully calibrate points on the cornea. Regardless, it was very reminiscent of the radiation tattoos for perfectly alignment.

You can't tell with the hairnets, but I'm the one in front.
Four little hooks hold the eye open. Very Clockwork Orange.

A femtosecond laser creates a thin flap in the cornea. Some low-cost surgeons still use a blade, which has higher risks. Do not recommend.

Say hi to Dr. Lasik!

The flap is carefully folded down with a tiny foam brush. The bottom isn't detached, so it can be reused later.


The main laser reshapes the cornea, turning it into a front lens that corrects for the deficiencies in the actual lens. In other words, pew pew!

The flap is dangling down from the bottom.

After sufficient zapping, the cornea flap is carefully replaced. No stitches, staples, or eye glue is necessary - the flap stays in place by itself. Unless you start rubbing your eye or or jabbing it with a fork. So don't do that.


Look into my eye. Look closer. Closer. Now you are under my control. Also, you can see the flap back in place.

The whole thing was repeated for the other eye, and I was ready to head home. Someone put goggles on me to prevent accidental touching, followed by sunglasses strong enough to prevent most screams due to bright light. Lastly, a generous dose of Valium prevented me from caring.

A checkup the next day confirmed I didn't knock the flap out of place. The goggles! They did something! More importantly, my vision was back to 20/15. I can see faerie dancing on the head of a pin. Assuming there was a faerie small enough to dance on a pin. Or a pin big enough. And within my line of sight.

Aside from some mild dry eyes for a couple weeks, everything went according to plan. Miraculously, I failed to find a new and interesting way to poke myself in the eyes! X-ray vision is yet to emerge and there are no signs of optic blasts anywhere, but I'm still happy with the results. 

*For those wondering why the original procedure including a lifetime of free enhancements, it's a numbers game that makes for good advertising The $4995 cost (now $5494) doesn't seem as bad when you start adding in a few do-overs. Most people over 30 never need one, and the technology is constantly improving. The only catch is no tech upgrades are included, but I was happy to pay $250/eye for a significantly faster healing time.

17 June 2017

The Fish Tank Compulsion

Many people associate hand washing with OCD. The person obsesses over hand cleanliness, so they create a ritual around washing their hands properly to alleviate the anxiety. Sometimes the ritual is scrubbing a certain number of times. Sometimes it is a certain manner of washing to get rid of all the dirt and germs. Regardless, continually washing ones hands all day does not actually accomplish anything positive. Even I have dealt with compulsions in the form of rituals to achieve the necessary level of cleanliness.

Before college, I had a fish tank. Cleaning that fish tank brought up a lot of contamination issues. I put towels down everywhere so no stray drop could get through. Once the dirty water was out and the clean water in, it was time for decontamination. Everything had to be done in a very specific order to prevent contaminating anything. First my clothes went into a pile in the bathroom. I carefully piled them such that no wet spots touched the floor. Then I washed my hands and arms three times, as three was number necessary to get rid of any yucky fish water. If I didn't feel like I sufficiently scrubbed myself, it become four or five times. Next, I wrapped myself in a clean towel and went back to my room to change. All the towels and clothes were carefully carried downstairs and straight into the washer. Just in care, I washed my hands again between carrying the pile and turning on the washer. No sense in getting fish water on the washer controls. Finally, I sprayed down everything with antibacterial cleaner. The outside of the fish tank, all nearby hard surfaces, the bathroom sink. Everything. After waiting a few minutes for the cleaner to work, all the surfaces were wiped down with paper towels. The paper towels went straight into the trash. Finally, I washed my hands another three times. Contamination from the fish water was my obsession and this ridiculous cleaning strategy was my compulsion.

What happened if something went awry in my plan? Disaster. One time I ran out of antibacterial cleaner. I needed a new bottle from under the kitchen sink. I tried to open the door with my foot, but the childproof lock kept me out. I asked my dad to open the cabinet for me. He refused, saying I should open it myself. In desperation to finish my cleaning, I eventually opened it myself while in a teary mess. My life-preserving decontaminating ritual was ruined.

For years, I refused to touch that part of the cabinet. No amount of scrubbing or chemicals could disinfect that area sufficiently, as the fish water penetrated the wood. In fact, I never touched it again. It wasn't until the cabinet was replaced that I opened the door under the sink normally.

Such a rigorous cleaning regiment is clearly not necessary to prevent fish water from ruining my life. Fish water isn't even that horrible compared to other possible contaminants. Somewhere in my brain I always knew this wasn't logical. And yet I continued for years, as performing the compulsion was infinitely better than not doing it.

After years of cognitive behavioral therapy, I now know how harmful it is to keep performing the compulsion. Instead, through countless hours of exposure and response prevention (ERP), it is possible to overcome the compulsion. Exposing yourself to an obsession and sitting through the anxiety instead of performing the compulsion is incredibly hard by itself. A therapist or ERP coach makes it mind-numbingly painful by constantly reminding you about how horrible the situation is and not letting you cheat. Eventually, the ERP makes it possible to function without performing the specific compulsion. Sometimes the compulsion goes away completely. Other times, the desire to compulse remains, but is bearable. Either way, it's better than living with horrible, time-consuming ritual.

01 May 2017

Combating OCD

It is a common trope to declare oneself as OCD due to some specific desire of orderliness. Shockingly, keeping the house clean or carefully ordering books doesn't qualify as a symptom of OCD by itself. Some people with OCD are complete slobs. Others just shove all the books on the shelf where ever they fit. Merely preferring something a particular way is normal. Having it completely take over everyday life is when it becomes an obsession.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder consists of two parts. As described above, the obsession can be nearly anything. Many of my obsessions are around what I consider perfection. The compulsion is something that eases the mind and makes the obsession go away. Mine are often fixing things to make them perfect. Even that last sentence needed to be perfect, so I rewrote it three times before convincing myself to move on.

Rewriting a sentence a few times doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is part of a much larger problem. If my blog posts aren't perfect, readers will see these imperfections and think I'm an idiot or incapable of properly editing my writing. In reality, these responses aren't actually likely. In my mind, I need to prevent people from thinking poorly of me. And therein lies the problem, causing me to rewrite sentences and even paragraphs over and over.

The only proven method of combating OCD is through exposures. Exposures have absolutely nothing to do with streaking. An exposure is purposely creating an appropriate obsessive situation and not performing the compulsion to make the anxiety go away. It often takes weeks or months of daily exposures to combat just one obsession.

Exposures suck. Really really suck. Even minor ones. You can't just do it for five minutes and declare it finished. The entire point is to sit with the horrible anxiety until it decreases. A typical exposure lasts forty-five minutes to an hour. The anxiety may not decrease at all for awhile. For it to work, you have to keep at it, repeating the same exposure daily until the anxiety decreases or disappears entirely for an obsession.

Any exposure worth its salt is mentally draining. Two a day, plus an hour of regular therapy and an hour of group is also physically draining. Just this half day routine is enough to leave me useless all afternoon.

Most people with OCD have a large pile of obsessions. That means each of these obsessions needs to be treated individually. The obsessions are usually ranked into a hierarchy, from least horrible to completely life-destroying. As the lower obsessions are conquered, the higher ones become relatively easier to experience.

Even with countless exposures, some obsessions and compulsions never go away entirely. You just have to be diligent about not falling back into old patterns. It's a lifelong struggle. And on that note, I'm going to hit "Publish", without checking for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

31 March 2017

The High Cost of Perfection

Everything must be perfect. Me, the world around me, even this blog post. What constitutes perfection depends whatever exemplar I create for the thing in question. A major example is my notebook. If I make a mistake and need to cross out or write over something, it is no longer perfect. And when something is no longer perfect, it is ruined. While other people may not even notice such a slight flaw, I need to fix it somehow. Continuing the notebook example, I tear out the page and rewrite it until there are no mistakes. If tearing out the page is not possible, well, the notebook is a complete wash. I need a new one. In the new one, I must rewrite everything exactly as it was the first time. Even the same pen(s) used the first time. Clearly this is no way to live.

The level of imperfection, and therefore damage, varies from situation to situation. Some things can easily be fixed and once fixed are of little consequence. If something is impossible to fix, such as a past action of mine, I experience high levels of anxiety. My brain can't handle it, so it ruminates on the imperfection for hours, days, even weeks. I only dwell on the perceived problem. Rationally, I know this is completely inane. Nothing in life is perfect. Things get scratched. I make mistakes. Normal wear and tear occurs. And yet it is still the end of the world when these things happen.

One detrimental way to get around imperfections is to ask for reassurance. Just hearing from someone else that something is not a problem gives me temporary relief. But temporary relief is temporary. It becomes an addiction, with my brain always needing another fix of "it's fine." As with any other addiction, I can't ever get past the problem myself when I keep getting further reassurance.

Matt used to constantly provide reassurance until he found out that it's actually detrimental in the long run. Even after years of him denying me, I continue to ask. I still crave that quantum of relief.

My inability to make seemingly simple decisions arises from this perfection problem. I need to make the perfect decision every time, so I continually mull over every option, looking for possible benefits and flaws for every option. I even ask other people for opinions. I get so wrapped up with trying to make the perfect selection that I never actually make one.

After selling my beloved car, my therapist suggested that I use a bit of the money to get myself something something nice. Nothing that I need, merely something to enjoy. I narrowed my search down to a necklace, a nice pen, and a camera lens. I was able to remove the lens from consideration as it would be slightly superfluous, but there isn't a right or wrong answer for the other two options. It's been two weeks and I've successfully accomplished is looking at both in person. The longer I take to decide, the more energy I waste ruminating on the options.

I really wish I could see the world like most people. Imperfections are okay, and things are still completely usable. I just need to convince my brain of that.

27 March 2017

Review: restaurant delivery

grubhub
-

doordash
- multiple problems, but always resolved it easily
- wider selection

caviar
- never had a problem with the delivery
- set delivery price + service charge
- smaller selection, but "curated"

postmates
- service fee + delivery fee + tip
- doesn't know what customer service is

uber eats
- don't come to the door
- cheap delivery if no surge
- owned by the uber asshats

10 March 2017

Review: Nextdoor, letgo, OfferUp, and Close5

In my effort to speed up the process of getting rid of the stuff in the garage, I decided to take a foray into all the local selling apps that are appearing everywhere. I chose Nextdoor, letgo, OfferUp, and Close5. There are many other apps, so I narrowed my choices down to the four that seemed the most popular. I listed the washer and dryer on all of them, as well as on Craigslist.

Nextdoor

Nextdoor is more of a social network based on proving you live in a specific neighborhood. Aside from their annoying verification system, posting a classified was easy. I had no problem using existing pictures, even in the app. The only real downside is that it is similar to Facebook's news feed - as new posts are created and responded to, your post gets pushed down. Though I created my listing through their app, I had no problems editing anything through their full-featured website.

The big drawback to Nextdoor was finding my post. There is no option anywhere to just get a page of your posts. Their help page even says to just search through your feed to find it! If there is a lot of action, this is obviously annoying. The best way I found was to search through only the classifieds section, which had fewer posts.

Nextdoor is all down to business - everything you need to know arranged in a logical order.

letgo

letgo's approach is SELL YOUR EVERYTHING! The app is dead simple to use, which unintentionally also makes it frustrating. Every page has some sort of new listing button, often taking up otherwise valuable screen real estate on a phone. Clicking any of these buttons allows you to take a picture or select one existing picture. Once selected, your post is live. That's it. Perhaps you'd like to include a price or a title? Now you have to go back and edit your listing. Don't bother with the categories; they are too vague to matter. Does my vacuum fall in "electronics" or "home and garden?" Meh.

Why was I searching for something when I could be selling my stuff instead?

They want everything to be done from within the app, but they have a website. I don't recommend visiting unless you want to lose brain function. letgo also sent a "helpful" email informing me that my item was listed. I made the mistake of clicking the link to my item; it only ever showed an error page. The worst part is the website has the same issue with new listing buttons. All of them just give you a popup saying to use the app. Even the mark as sold button doesn't do squat. Web design 101 - if you have a giant button, it damn well better work.

Both streets are a random street near me. I think they were supposed to be my city.

The listings themselves were tenuous at best. Sometimes they appeared in search results, and sometimes they disappeared from my account entirely. My personal favorite was the pictures randomly changing order until the least useful picture became the main picture. I had to delete and reupload that picture. When the listings did appear, they were listed as being in <streetname>, CA. Everyone's listings had this problem.

The one thing letgo did right was alerting me when prospective buyers made contact. Of course, the entire city was alerted by the disturbingly loud and annoying notification sound. And the entire city continued to be traumatized as notifications had to be on for everything or nothing.

Note the title they "helpfully" inserted for me. At least they got the object correct this time.

I have no idea of to where in the aether my description ran.


Offerup

OfferUp's app feels a lot more pleasant to use. Creating a listing takes a few more steps than with letgo, but I felt like I created a much better listing when I was done. You take pictures, pick a price, pick a condition, and write a description. While I was happy to see condition options, they were overly broad.

My listings didn't appear immediately, but they eventually did in both searches and my online profile. Again, I couldn't edit anything on the website, but everything could be easily edited in the app.

OfferUp clearly had the same person in charge of notifications as letgo. This time it was an absurdly loud cash register sound. I desperately wanted to turn off notifications for everything but activity on my listings, but I either had to turn them off for everything or nothing. Not cool.

The cutesy tag is totally necessary.

The pictures are larger, so you have to scroll down to get further info.


close5

After using the other apps, close5 felt like a school project that hadn't been finished, but needed to be turned in. It insisted that my location was Redwood City, CA, no matter how many times I changed it. You can pick multiple pictures at once, instead of one at a time like the other apps, but you can't remove them or change the order. Postings just have a short description, no title, and don't always appear in search results. Make sure your listing is perfect the first time, as there is no way to edit the description. close5 did let me delete postings instead of marking them as sold, which felt more correct since the items weren't sold via close5.

close5 barely has a website. It offers a basic search and nothing else. Don't even bother checking it, and definitely don't bother trying to use their search.

Why must they ruin an otherwise acceptable layout by overlaying the price? WHY?

tl;dr

Just stick with Craigslist. Their search actually works, posts aren't transient, you can access it easily from a computer or mobile device, and, most importantly, it is easy to update or remove an existing post. If you really feel you must get more attention for an item, then venture into the apps. But until they stop spending all of their venture capital funds on advertising and start making their apps and websites work properly, they are not worth the headache.

06 March 2017

OCD vs My House

We bought our house and spent an imperial buttload of money renovating it to our exacting standards. It's been done for nearly two years, and yet I can't simply enjoy living there. Instead, I focus on the tiny little things that aren't perfect. Some are minuscule mistakes that anyone normal person wouldn't even notice. Some are game-day decisions to get around construction obstacles. Some are things we just plain didn't think about until after they were already done. The only thing they all have in common is they make me uncomfortable in my own house.

One of the major offenders is the living room ramp. There are three stairs between the dining room and living room area. Code requires that the risers are the same height across every stair. To accomplish this, there is a slight ramp at the bottom of the stairs.
There go my dreams of being a graphic designer.
The rest of the lower area (living room, powder room, and office) is all the same level. If we knew about this problem, and I convinced Matt to spend an extra five thousand on subfloor, we could have slightly raised the entire area. But we didn't, and now I have to live with it. Except I can't.

Every time I feel the slight incline under my feet, I get upset. Rationally, I know this isn't a big deal. I even measured the angle once, and it's only 0.2°. A negligible angle that most people don't even notice, while I spend hours ruminating over its existence.

Avoidance is a characteristic response of OCD. I, being the queen of avoidance, take a larger step at the bottom of the stairs to avoid treading on the offending ramp. I've done it so often that I don't even notice the altered gait going either up or down. Long term, such avoidance only perpetuates the cycle. For right now, it gets me through the day and through my house.

20 February 2017

Double stuft garage

Our garage is filled with crap. Lot of different varieties of crap. Millions of files, old golf clubs, random stuff from Matt's parents, and who knows what else. Aside from my tools and our current golf clubs, we pretty much don't want any of it. We considered "fixing" the problem via fire, but that seemed like a bad idea during a major drought. Sorting through everything and having a giant garage sale was a much better solution, and one much less likely to end with being captured by a bail bondsman. So we started going through everything. That was in October.

Somehow we managed to get through nearly every box. The few things we actually wanted mostly made it inside. Everything else was either marked for selling or tossed. We realized we had so many extra files of paper that shredding it ourselves was a losing proposition. Hiring a shredding company to make it disappear was a much better solution. We had a plan for everything, and everything was going well. Then the water came.

Now, with the garage being an Official Mold Zone(TM), our lovely plans all went to hell. We can't have a garage sale with moldy water dripping down the walls. And we can't tear apart the garage with all sorts of stuff inside. Time for a new plan.

Calling a paper shredding company is still viable. But how to get rid of everything else? Craigslist! Anything with any real value (translation: worth over $40) gets listed. Everything else gets shoved in cardboard boxes for Goodwill to retrieve.

We spent the weekend curating the best items. I cleaned and photgraphed everything, while Matt researched prices. For now, we have seven excellent posts, with items ranging from luggage to a washer and dryer set. Buyers can contact me via Craigslist's awesome email relay or by text or phone. I have a burner number set up on my cell phone, so no crazy people have my real number.

I quickly got a lot of responses. Unfortunately, nearly have been from scammers. Scammers are the scum of the earth, and they all deserve to crash into trees at high speeds. Preferably on a rainy night in the middle of nowhere. Without wearing a seatbelt. Did I mention that I truly hate scammers?

The scammers all follow nearly the same script. Broken English, with the entire post title in the first message. No real person is going to bother typing out the entire post title into a text message. But, just in case it is the one in a million real person who does things differently, I always reply at least once. They either accept the price straight away, or haggle the exact same way. They want "to purchase it asap." Then they mention that "i won't be chanced to come around for check up due to the nature of my job." Perhaps that's because their job is to cheat people out of their money? Needless to say, I stop bothering at that point.

Of course, there are some real people who actually want to buy things. About half of them are idiots who clearly failed remedial reading. What color is the suitcase? Gee, perhaps it's red, as clearly shown in all the photos and written in the listing? Or can I buy just one speaker from the set you listed? Why on earth would I agree to that? I would never be able to sell the rest of the system, as a 5.1 speaker system needs five freaking speakers!

There are still more things to list, and hopefully everything gets sold eventually. Eventually had just better be sooner rather than later.

15 February 2017

In which the garage of dooooom gets worse

As previously mentioned, the garage has slightly way more water inside than out. I called a mold inspector to come admire the disaster, and guess what he found? Two kinds of mold! Thankfully, they are both in the garage. There is a damp wall in the house from the roof leak, but no mold there. Yay for small miracles.

The weird red dots on the back wall are one kind of mold, while the rest of the dark green blobs are the second. It's like the world's worst Christmas decorations! Actual mushrooms are sprouting from the green blobs as they spread out. I guess those are the ornaments on the mold garlands. Every time we dare enter the mold zone, more mold and mushrooms are visible.

As a stopgap, Matt suggested caulking around the outside. Armed with three tubes of silicone caulk and a caulk gun, I proceeded to shove as much caulk into the outside cracks as I could. The worst crack was more of a hole, and the silicone kept falling out. I ended up wedging a small rock in the hole, the caulking the hell out of the whole thing. I'm just going to assume that the rock is nonporous.

Now you may be wondering how I reached these high up cracks. Well, it involved a stepladder, bricks for leveling said stepladder, and Matt using his body weight to hold everything steady. Not exactly the ideal circumstances, especially since we were working quickly to finish before the rain started again. The worst part was using a utility knife to chop off mushrooms that were peaking out through the cracks. The only saving grace was the caulk claiming to be watertight in 30 minutes, which is about how much time it had before the rain started again. Needless to say, the caulking job is not going to win any awards for neatness.

The next step was to call the insurance companies. Not knowing which to call first, I just guessed and called home owner's insurance. I explained the situation to them and opened a claim. I didn't bother mentioning the roof leak, which will come in at maybe ten percent of the deductable. The phone agent wasn't able to tell me what, if anything, would be covered. I'd have to wait for the adjuster. Oh, and due to all the rain, the assignment of adjusters is backed up, so it would take a few days before one was assigned.

Luck me, an adjuster called the next day. He said he would send an inspector out to survey the damage, after which they could determine what was covered. He also said I should call my flood insurance company.

The flood insurance phone agent started a claim for me. Because Mercury was in retrograde, the claim system automatically rejected my claim since the garage is detached. Um, what the fuck? I asked the agent to wait while Matt and I rechecked our policy. Not only does the included FEMA brochure specifically mention that detached garages are covered, the policy specifically mentions that it is covered as well.

The phone agent offered to put through the claim despite the rejection, but she wasn't sure it would get anywhere. Clearly something in the system got fixed as an adjuster was assigned and called me the very next day. They, too, would be sending out an inspector.

The flood inspector came first to look at the damage caused by ground water. He looked at everything around both the house and garage, including the water under the raised foundation part of the house. He found even more spots growing mold in the garage ceiling. However, the flood insurance doesn't cover mold remediation. You would think that if anything, flood insurance would cover mold. What they do cover is just ripping everything out and replacing it. Now here's where it gets really fun. They fix the water and mold damaged areas, but they don't fix the cause of the water damage. Instead, they'd rather keep fixing the same issue over and over. For us, this means they will cover their portion of the garage, but not any digging to put in French drains or regrading of the yard. How freaking stupid is that?

The home owner's inspector came the very next day. He was very unsure as to how much, if any, that insurance would cover. They don't cover cracks caused by normal wear of a building, but they may cover the damage caused by them. Also, he was very displeased by the entire garage. He kept asking if we pulled permits and used a reputable builder. We did both, so we'll see what happens. Just for funsies, they also don't cover fixing the root cause. I declared them to also be stupid.

As of now, I'm waiting to hear back from both adjusters. There is basically no chance of anyone but ourselves paying to put in the necessary waterproofing and drains. The flood inspector confirmed that the entire rooftop deck needs to be ripped off and redone. The cracks were possibly caused by ground water moving dirt around underneath the garage, causing the garage to sink/settle and crack. This possibly makes the cracks and that damage fall under flood insurance, but since it wasn't ground water directly, that damage may fall under home owner's. The only obvious part is the ground water coming through the cinder blocks. In other words, the entire thing is a giant clusterfuck. And while everything gets sorted out, the mold continues to flourish. Maybe we can start a penicillin farm?

14 February 2017

OMG PNYZ

A couple of years ago, the old BMW X5 died. We kept it around after Matt got his new car so we'd have something to put the dogs in. I considered selling my beloved 2008 Audi S5 in favor of an electric BMW i3. The rear seats fold down, making enough room for the dogs. When we needed it, we could just rent a car to take skiing or where ever. I decided not to for a few reasons, such as the house was still under construction and I couldn't put a charging station in the rental house. However, we still had a problem. Doggies are not allowed in my car, with it's "back seat." Doggies are also not allowed in Matt's. Our first world solution was to lease a BMW X1 for toting around the dogs and driving up snowy mountains. We figured by the time the lease was up, there would be more electric options and we could put a charging station in the completed garage.

Well, we still had three cars. Admittedly, it was a silly solution, made under pressure. And now two of the cars required monthly payments, instead of just one. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like selling my Audi was the correct financial decision. The only problem - I didn't want to.

I truly loved my S5. Red leather interior, manual transmission, and exceptional handling at 95MPH (don't tell Grandma). The interior was spotless, except for the red ribbon around the stick. The only deficiency was the carbon fiber trim pieces. For whatever reason, the carbon fiber glue failed and the pieces started peeling off. The dealer wanted $900 PER PIECE just in parts, since all four entire trims had to be replaced (two on the front doors, two in the back). I declined their offer and bought used pieces online for $550 total. The body shop was going to install them for a few hundred.

Before I could install the pieces, another asshat hit my car and declined to leave a note. Add another few hundred to fix the scrapes on the driver's side door. And then the clutch started acting weird.

When you ease up on the clutch, the pedal is supposed to automatically rise up. Instead, it desided to only come up halfway. I discovered this on a freeway on ramp when I stalled the car. I "fixed" the problem by pulling the clutch back up with my foot.

It only happened once the first day, so I chalked it up to a fluke. Sadly, it started happening more and more on subsequent days. Time to bring my car in for service.

It took the mechanics a day and half to be sure, and then my service advisor called me with the bad news.  The clutch fork needed to be replaced. The part itself was only a few hundred, but to get to the fork the entire freaking transmission needed tobe dropped. That's $3900 in labor. Based on experience, there was also a good chance that the clutch assembly would need to be replaced, for an extra two grand. Great.

I got a price from the dealer. After a bit of negotiating, I got him up $500 by throwing in the trim pieces I already bought. It was a $50 loss, but easier than trying to resell the pieces myself. I was thinking of trying to sell my car third pary, but that would require fixing everything first. Based on online research, that would only get me an extra thousand or so over what Audi offered me, if I was able to get top dollar. There was a reasonable chance that I wouldn't. My original plan was to drive over to CarMax for a second offer, but driving all the way there in the rain with a bad clutch didn't exactly seem safe. So, in the end, I just sold my precious car back to the dealer.

Good bye, my love.

25 January 2017

Water water everywhere. Especialy in the garage.

Last year, Los Angeles was supposed to be flooded by El NiƱo. It came and went, and the drought barely noticed. This year, however, we had more rain in two weeks than all of last year combined. At first, I was ecstatic. I missed the rain, especially nice, luod thunderstorms. Then the water started invading our house.

Off the master bedroom is a balcony inset into the mansard roof. It has stucco walls and a stucco ceiling. During rainstorms, water sometimes blows into the balcony and leaves wet spots. However, there is no known rain that blows up and soaks just one spot in the ceiling. Crap.
Ignore the different colors of stucco.

As the rain continued battering Los Angeles, the wet spot on the ceiling grow. Spots appeared in one of the walls, eventually connecting to form a giant blob of doom. The ceiling started dripping water. At this point we were convinced there must be some sort of roof leak. I constantly checked the master bedroom and the living room corners directly under the balcony for signs of moisture. Thankfully, the water seamed happy to stay on the balcony.

We emailed our contractor, who, while surprised, agreed to send out the roofer. The roofer found a leak, but, as of today, still can't fix it until everything finishes drying out.

Our garage is a completely separate structure set into the hill, with a rooftop deck covered in stone tiles. Clearly it felt left out, as it began leaking. First it was just wet cinderblock walls.
You can see some of the old stains on the left.
This was not entirely unexpected due to the waterstains all over the walls. As the rain continued, more water came through, until it was actually dripping down the blocks and pooling on the floor.

Cracks, hopefully from settling, formed between the deck tiles that wrap around to the sides and the wall stucco.
How cool would it be if they looked like the crack from Doctor Who?
Water penetrated the cracks, leading to water stains on the ceiling. By itself, this wasn't the moist worrisome thing ever.
Can you guess where this is going?
See that giant conduit? That's right! One of the leaks is directly above the electrical subpanel! Even better, the water is flowing down behind the particle board emerging where the wall changes to cinder blocks.
Even if the panel is waterproof, that outlet looks kind of skeevy.
Pools formed on the cinder block ledge, eventually overflowing to create nice puddles on the floor. We decided that the boxes of leftover glass tile were of low priority and left them there. Even if the boxes get ruin, the tiles will be fine.

Along the back wall was boxes of leftover hardwood flooring. I used the word "were" because Matt had to move the ridiculously heavy boxes away from the seepage. Hidden behind them, where the plastic wrapped boxes leaned against the wall, was a very odd pattern of water.
The garage has herpes.

We had absolutely no idea what the spots were until things started drying out and the spots turned red. Red? Yes, red. As in red mold. Later today I will call the mold company because it's such a large area and I won't feel comfortable until a professional looks at it.

23 January 2017

We can rebuild her. We have the technology.

Over a year ago, Reese started limping after a trip to the doggy beach. We initially chalked it up to too much running around and merely needing some rest. Alas, this was not the case. She would rest (read: not get her tennis ball thrown every thirty seconds) for a few days, then immediately start limping as soon as we ramped up her activity level. It was time for the vet.

The Dr. Vet poked and prodded her leg and knee, while Reese glared at him. The joint was swollen and clearly causing her discomfort. We tried everything Dr. Vet recommended, such as anti-inflammatories, but nothing produced a lasting result. Finally, months later, it was time to visit Dr. Orthopaedic Vet.

Apparently when dogs tear their CCL (cranial cruciate ligament, the doggy version of an ACL), it is usually degenerative rather than acute. That means instead of a sudden tear and lots of howling, it slowly tears over a period of time. Dr. Orthopaedic Vet further explained that the ligament can't recover from tears, but it can be replaced with string and scar tissue. She couldn't be 100% sure about how badly, if at all, the ligament was torn prior to surgery, but, in her experience, it was torn and needed to be fixed.

After much debate, we chose the less invasive option to fix her knee. Basically, a bunch of fishing wire is wrapped around the knee to hold it together, and eventually scar tissue builds up and keeps everything steady. As the knee heals, stretches and increased mobility prevent the scar tissue from locking the knee in place while simultaneously building up strength.

We scheduled her surgery for as soon as possible. Afterwards, Dr. Orthopaedic Vet said her ligement was 90% torn. She kept Reese in the hospital overnight for observation, after which she was very ready to come home.
The blue dangly thing is a leash.

Sadly for her, Reese had two months of rehabilitation in front of her. At first, she was stuck in her crate most of the time, to prevent her from trying to walk around. At first, she was groggy enough to not care.
Zero dragged over his bed to keep her company.
That lasted for about as long as you'd expect. With her normal imperviousness to pain, she wanted to run around and eat tennis balls. However, the doctor said she was limited to five minute potty walks and nothing else. Let's just say the two weeks until her stitches were removed were very loud.

Once the stitches were finally out, the cone came off and physical therapy could begin. At first she was super excited to be out of the house and meeting new people. When the therapist laid her on her said and began stretching and massaging her leg, Reese changed her mind and wanted out of there. It took at least one vet tech to hold her still enough for the therapist to do her job.

Next came the obstacle course. Normal dogs are lured through the course with treats, but Miss Picky Pants wanted nothing to do with the offered food. She even turned up her snout at cheese. Thankfully, she was willing to follow Matt through the course. I helped by pointing and laughing.

Finally, the water tank. It's basically a treadmill in tank with varying amounts of water. In Reese's case, the water resistance forces her to use certain muscles, strengthening them. As she still refused to be lured by traditional nom noms, they threw a tennis ball in the tank. That got her moving.

With increased activity levels and regular physical therapy, Reese's leg was clearly healing nicely. The only problem was that her other hind leg was getting worse. It is common for dogs with one CCL tear to tear the other one. What no one mentioned is that by favoring the good knee both before and after surgery, the good CCL can develop a degenerative tear. I'll give you guess as to what happened.

We got to repeat the entire process over again. Reese's other knee was fixed over Thanksgiving, as she needed to be boarded at the vet anyway since she couldn't run around at the normal place. She recovered more quickly this time, as there wasn't another torn ligament hindering her progress. And thankfully, she's out of knees to replace.

05 January 2017

Star Trekking, across the universe

Because we're super cool, Matt, a second Matt, and I went to a Star Trek convention in San Francisco. It was basically what we expected - standard nerds, some in costume. I wanted to dress up, but Matt (both, really) was boring and flat out refused.

I was planning on getting a photo signed by John de Lancie, who played Q, my second favorite Star Trek character. (For those wondering, my favorite is Garek.) The plan was to buy a picture of Q from one of the vendors. However, there were shockingly few vendors, and only one selling glossy 8x10s appropriate for signing. While mulling over the equally unideal choices, Matt noticed a picture of Terry Farrell from Trials and Tribble-ations, my second favorite Deep Space 9 episode. Anyone noticing a trend here? Anyway, I decided to get that picture as well and get it signed.

Next it was time to meet Q. He was very nice - he asked some questions and listened to my answers. It was almost like a real conversation! The table next to him housed Denise Crosby, who saw my four ponies of the apocalypse t-shirt. She struck up a conversation about it and told me about the Tasha Yar My Little Pony that someone made. She even looked up a picture of it on her phone!

After that encounter, there was only one logical thing to do. We found the hotel's business center and paid $1.90 for a crappy printout of the Tasha Yar My Little Pony.

When I brought it back over and asked her to sign it, she went nuts. Good nuts, just to be clear. She desperately tried to get John de Lancie's attention, but he was trying to ignore her and talk to another fan. After she signed the page, I held it up over the should of the other fan's head so he'd finally see it. At first he was quite confused as to what on earth was going on that required his immediate attention, but he eventually acknowledged the pony and its inherent awesomeness.

Inherent awesomeness.

Now that such a glorious memento is in my possession, I feel the need to create a ridiculously awesome photo album in which to store it. I'm thinking of making it look like a PADD.

Still basking in the glory from my successful encounters the previous day, I decided to brave the microphone and ask Q a question during his Q&A. There were two microphones, each with about five or six people waiting when I got up to the front. I patiently waited my turn as people alternated between legitimate questions and asking for validation on their creepy stalker stories and pet theories.

Finally, the person in front of me asked her question. All that was standing in front of me and 15 seconds of talking in front of hundreds of people was a kid at the other mike. The kid claimed to be 13, but he looked closer 8. And he was dressed like Wesley Crusher, complete with the sweater. I thought to myself, "If anyone is going to ruin my amazing question, it's going to be freaking Wesley."

Well, guess what happened next. While he did not ask the exact same question, it was annoyingly similar. I desperately wanted to yell, "SHUT UP WESLEY!" I even contemplated leaving the line, but I didn't want to be berated publicly by Q. I tried desperately to think of anything resembling a valid question. My idiot brain went completely blank. And then it was my turn to speak.

With nothing else to say, I gave up and just asked my original question. "Which captain did you most enjoy tormenting?" To no one's surprise, he replied that he just answered that question. "I know, but after waiting in line, I at least wanted a chance to ask." And I ran off to hide at the bottom of a deep chasm. Or back to my chair, which was slightly closer.

Thanks, Wesley.