Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

We’ve run into a slight hitch here at Our Humble O’Bode: We are temporarily without lights in our dining room and kitchen. At least I hope it’s temporary.

I was all geared up to do a little home improvement last weekend: I wanted to install some track lights in the kitchen. The fixture in there was just okay, sort of an artsy-fartsy-looking low-watt cluster of spotlights that we’ve muddled along with for twelve years. If the bulbs didn’t blow out so often, I might be inclined to keep muddling along, but the track lights I hung in the dining room threw so much light – a little too much, really – that I thought they’d work a treat in the kitchen.

Then I unscrewed the artsy-fartsy light fixture from the ceiling and discovered the wiring was so old the insulation crumbled to pieces, leaving bare wires.

I know just enough about electricity to replace a switch or a light fixture. And I know that bare wires can start a fire. I do not know enough to replace bare wires.

So until we get an electrician to fix this mess, the circuit is off and we don’t have lights in the kitchen or the dining room. The fridge is on another circuit, thank goodness. In fact, we lucked out with all the appliances: the clothes washer, the dish washer, the kettle to boil water for coffee – even the garbage disposal! Only the lights are affected.

I plugged a shop lamp in the wall and hung it from the ceiling in the dining room so we could go get our dinner out of the fridge, or stack the dirty dishes in the dish washer, without groping around in the darkness. I didn’t think of that right away; I did the dishes by candle light the first night. It wasn’t until the next morning when I was boiling water for coffee, that I realized I could plug a light into the wall socket that was still working.

fiat lux | 6:45 pm CST
Category: fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode
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Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Our clothes drier went on the fritz. It spun and spun and it blew a lot of air through the part where the clothes tumbled around, but it didn’t get hot any more so the clothes took hours and hours to dry.

I asked teh Google why this might be. The thermostat or the heating element, said teh Google. You should check them first, it said, so I did. I know just enough about electricity to endanger myself and others, which I have done, many times. This was not one of those times. With the plug pulled out of the wall, the clothes drier is just a big inert piece of steel. I could poke around inside it all night, and I did. My pokings revealed that it was most likely the heating element that was broken.

So once I knew that, what could I do about it? Turns out, plenty! I easily found a heating element for my cheap-o clothes drier in just a few clicks, and FedEx delivered it to my doorstep in just two days. The internets is a cesspool of bad stuff most of the time, but it’s also occasionally helpful, too.

I fixed that clothes drier for about fifty-five bucks and maybe a hour and a half of my time, and all I needed to do it was a screwdriver, a crescent wrench and all the smarts that a twelve-year-old boy with an interest in electronics would have. Computers are far beyond my ken, but give me a broken clothes drier and I can fix the hell out of it.

Fritz | 8:29 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, fun with electricity, random idiocy
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Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Shortly before we left the house to go see the Gershwin Songbook, while we were sitting at the table eating lunch, the lights flickered and, from the direction of the garage, I heard an odd sort of growling noise.

“That’s the second time it’s done that this morning,” B commented.

“Really?” I asked. “Did you hear a noise, too?”

“Yeah. I remember because I thought it was the garage door opener until I remembered that you took the garage door opener down to fix it.”

The lights flickered again about five minutes later and again I heard the growling noise, so I got up and flipped the switches that turned off the light over the garage door and the light out front over the flower planter. The lights didn’t flicker any more and there was no more growling.

I excused myself after lunch, went to the basement and shut off the circuit breaker to the outdoor lights, then went to the garage and clipped the power lines and capped the ends with wire nuts before switching the circuit breakers back on. Not sure how, or even if I can find the short in that circuit, but until I do, those lights will have to stay dark. Can’t have the house burning down while we’re out enjoying Gershwin or anything else.

short circuit | 6:28 am CST
Category: daily drivel, fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, January 14th, 2012

I’ve spent the morning and part of the afternoon making a few improvements around the house, starting with the book cases in the extra room.

It used to be Tim’s room, but we’ve been using it as an office. That’s a highfalutin way of saying we put a desk in there that’s been buried under a heap of bills and catalogs for more than a year. There’s a twin bed in there, too, that’s usually buried under old clothes and blankets, except for the two times a year that Sean comes to visit. Other than that, the room doesn’t get much use.

And it was a lot of extra space that wasn’t getting much use. Meanwhile, in the basement, three big boxes of books sat waiting to be unpacked. So, early last summer, I bought a couple of book cases from one of those unfinished furniture store, brought them home and left them untouched in the spare room for a couple months. Can’t rush these things.

Last month, though, I finally took the shelves out of one of the book cases, slapped a coat of finish on them and on the book case, waited for the whole shebang to dry before I sanded it all down and slapped on a second coat. I was going to paint them because I’m not very good at staining wood. It always comes out way too dark for my liking and usually kind of splotchy. Paint never does. My Darling B encouraged me to try again, though, pointing out that I could always paint over it if I didn’t like it. She’s kinda smart.

And what the hell, it did turn out looking pretty good, thanks to a stain sealer I found. I didn’t have to rub the stain off with a rag, just paint it on with a brush and leave it to dry, then sand it and brush on a second coat. I chose the lightest shade they offered and it turned out looking great, nothing like any of the other projects I’ve tried to stain.

I finished the first book case just before Christmas, and I finished the second one last week, but I still had to screw it to the wall because it’s almost eight feet tall and I didn’t want an eight-foot-tall book case loaded down with a couple hundred pounds of books to tip over on anybody. It probably wouldn’t happen, but those sound so much like famous last words that I didn’t unpack any books until I sank some anchors in the wall this morning and screwed it firmly in place. That sucker’s not tipping over now unless the whole house tips over.

Finally, I unpacked the books, three big boxes of them, and hauled them upstairs one arm load at a time. I expected they would almost fill the whole book case, with a little room left over for a few of our other books, and I wasn’t too far off. I got all the boxes unpacked, and carried up a couple stacks of books that were standing around in the basement, but that took up all the room there was. To make more room, we’ll have to weed out the books that could be sold to Half-Price Books or given to the friends of the library, but that’s for another day.

Because I still had other improvements to make. While My Darling B was out of the house, on a trip to the grocery store, I shut off the power to the lights and replaced a light switch that was going on the fritz. It worked about nine times out of ten, but that tenth time was iffy. The lights would blink on for a moment before going dark again. The same thing might happen with the next flick of the switch, or the lights might come on and stay on. It probably wasn’t the safest thing in the house, electrically speaking. I bought a new switch last weekend and have been waiting for the opportunity to switch off the power and replace it. This morning, I got it.

While I was in wiring mode, I did a little rewiring in the basement. A switch at the bottom of the stairs was not being used for anything, so I ran a wire from it to the lights in the corner of the basement where the beer’s kept. It seemed like such a simple idea, but I had to run the wire through the narrow gap between the stairway and the furnace uptakes, a place where spiders weave their webs and much dust has settled over the years. I went sweaty and I came out looking like a breaded chicken breast.

But it was worth it. That’s the same corner where the wash machine drains into a sink, and where the circuit breaker panel is mounted to the wall, so we go back there a lot – to fetch beer, to shut off the electricity when replacing light switches, and when taking part in the latest plumbing emergency caused by too much wash machine lint going down the drain. The lights used to be turned on by a pull chain, necessitating a long walk through the dark to the corner, but now we can switch them on at the bottom of the steps and walk all the way in the light. Go into the Light! Cross over children! All are welcome in the light!

After I finished that, there was plenty of clean-up to do because everywhere I tried to step there were wire ends I snipped off, bits of plastic insulation I stripped and, of course, chunks of meat and clots of blood I butchered from my hands. I swept up the big stuff, then vacuumed up the rest and, while I had the vacuum going, I cleaned up all the cat hair on the stairs, which must be where they do the bulk of their shedding. After just two or three weeks there’s enough cat hair on the stairs to make a Snuggie.

And that was all I had the energy for. Also, I felt gross. I went straight to the bathroom, peeled off all my clothes and stepped into the shower, cranked the handle up to “live steam” and stood there for twenty minutes, letting it blast all the crud away. And after dressing, I had a little nap, because I sort of felt I’d earned it.

improve | 3:30 pm CST
Category: books, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, entertainment, fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode, play
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Sunday, January 8th, 2012

How to install a 3-way light switch:

First, ask the google to show you a couple videos about installing 3-way switches. That way, you’ll find out that you need a four-strand wire to make them work before you do something stupid, like buying a hundred feet of standard three-strand electrical wire.*

The 3-way switches that I bought came with instructions printed on the insides of the boxes they came in. Throw them away. They will only confuse you. If you need a wiring diagram, ask the google again, review a few wiring diagrams until you find at least two that you understand, make a sketch your damned self and work from that.

If you run standard three-strand wire (hot, neutral & ground), you’ll have to run two lengths of it because you need that fourth wire to make the switches work. This is going to sound really obvious, but do it anyway: When you run the first wire, mark each end of it with a pen or piece of tape or your own blood. You’re not bleeding? Have you stripped the insulation off the wires yet? Do that. Okay, now mark the ends of the wire with your blood. Do not run the second wire until after you mark the first wire. If the reason for this isn’t apparent to you, you really need to just shut up and mark the ends of the wire. Then run the second wire.

There are three screws on a 3-way switch. One of them is a different color. This is important. If you don’t understand why, ask the google!

The first time you try out your 3-way switch, it might not work the way it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, go take a nap, or relax with a cup of coffee and a newspaper, or surf the internet for cat videos. Don’t try to fix it right away. Leave it alone for at least an hour. After you’ve calmed down, go back, take everything apart, and start over from the top.

If it does work the first time you try it, you’re a better man than me.

*It’s not like I won’t use the wire. I will. But it doesn’t make me feel any less stupid about not knowing that four-strand wire exists explicitly for this purpose.

amped | 5:45 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode
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