Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Look before you build a wall.

I took the day off today, and got a lot done.

Finally got around to investigating the sprinkler system leak. Turns out it wasn't a leak. It was a sprinkler head!

It seems the previous owner built a little wall of stacked bricks on top of an active, functioning sprinkler head. When this type of sprinkler head can't pop up all the way, water just gushes out. Hence the severe pseudo leak.

Silly previous owner.

Also went biking with Mark Leone in Kennedy Grove Regional Park. He's a seasoned biker, so I felt guilty the whole time I struggled slowly up hills. Great workout, though (and the fourth in as many days).

Mark also helped get our ancient gas mower running again. Yay Mark!

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Whining about software.

Finally bought a replacement battery for my ancient Nokia mobile phone. (It was, like, a year and a half old, if you can believe!) It had gotten to the point that the battery would hold less than a minute of charge. Thus the phone was only usable when plugged into a real power source, like a car or the wall. I'm excited, in a lame sort of way, for it to be useful again.

Also bought an external (USB/FireWire) DVD writer to make it easier to back up our growing archive of digital pictures. Once I'd made several backups, I started playing with the bundled software. Included is MyDVD 4.5, which lets you make simple video DVDs with video or digital pictures.

I decided that a DVD with hierarchical, chronological slideshows of digital pictures would be a nice thing to inflict on relatives, and so I set to making one. It didn't take long for me to get really frustrated.

MyDVD is decent, but it has one serious flaw that makes it painful to use. To import images for a slideshow, it presents a standard Windows file selection dialog. If you want your slideshow to have more than one image (which you probably do), you have to use shift or control to select multiple files.
When you do that, though, the files appear in the slideshow in seeminly random order. So once they're imported, you try to drag them around to rearrange them within the slideshow. And if you make the mistake of selecting multiple images and dragging them at once, they appear in, again, seemingly random order.
So you have no choice but to import the files one by one, which is impossibly tedious, or else import them as a group and then rearrange them one by one, which is only slightly less tedious.
To be fair, the DVDs it generates look great. The menus can have animated backgrounds, and you can use your own background music on the menus and the slideshows. If I had a way to digitize our existing home movies, it would be easy to include those as well. So it's a neat little program.
They just really need to fix multiple selection. Maybe they have, in more recent versions.

Monday, April 5, 2004

Pathetic subterranean spray.

As spring sets in, the lawn is starting to show signs of thirst. I've been using a simple yellow wave-back-and-forth sprinkler that I set in the middle of the lawn, but that's a hassle, and I've had trouble making time to do it.

Our house had a sprinkler system when we bought it, but it's ancient. Most of the heads spray suboptimally, some don't pop up, some don't pop back down, and a couple heads just bobble helplessly as water flows around them into the grass. Also, the heads in the back yard spray in maybe a three foot radius, not nearly enough to reach much of the yard.

Today I went around and tried to clear grass from around all of the sprinkler heads. Some had been completely overrun by grass, at the root level. To find those I had to turn on the sprinklers and wander around, bent over, listening for pathetic subterranean spray. Clearing the grass helped a bit, but there's still real repairs to do.
I also found out something important. There's a section right in front of the house that was swampy and partially submerged when we were in escrow, and we assumed it was because the sellers were overwatering to make things green. That was probably true, but today I found out that that area gets swampy within minutes of turning on the sprinkler system. There are some sprinkler system valves nearby; I suspect a serious underground leak. Maybe fixing that will give the backyard heads enough pressure to do their jobs.

Saturday, April 3, 2004

I can see my house from here! I can't feel my legs! Aargh, snake!

I've been meaning to start biking. A few years ago, Melissa bought us nice mountain bikes, but we've only used them a handful of times--and never offroad. The other day I wondered out loud if there were any biking trails near us. Melissa said there was one in Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve, which actually abuts the development we live in. Go figure!

Today I donned my Bike Nerd Wannabe costume and hopped on my bike. Then I hopped off and hosed down the bike to remove the layer of dust. Hard to look studly with little dust-bunny streamers wisping from your spokes.

Turns out dust was to be the least of my worries, studliness-wise. The ride from my house to the trailhead had me gasping for air. (Our neighborhood is very hilly.) Then I couldn't make it up the first hundred feet of trail in the highest gear. I walked the bike up that stretch, but at least my spokes were clean.
Up a bit from the trailhead was a water tower. (Upper center of the first image, as seen from my driveway.) That spot afforded a complete view of our neighborhood. Then up more hill, including a little more sheepish bike-walking, to yield a view of the water tower from above (second image).
By this point (all of a quarter mile into the trail) I was exhausted, but I pretended not to notice. Luckily, things leveled out for a while, and turned into what I had originally expected from the outing: bumpy but managable trail amidst the Splendor of Nature (third image).
Soon I was on the other side of the hills, and could see past the city of Richmond to Mount Tamalpais, all the way across the bay (fourth image).
Then the trail delved into valleys for a bit, until I skidded to a halt a few feet short of a very large snake. (It was maybe three and a half feet long, and an inch in diameter. It's my story, so I get to call it "very large".) It lay across the path, sunning, and leaving only a few inches clear on either side. It looked like one of those strips that lay across the road to count cars as they pass. One of those, but with an air of reptilian menace.
Three thoughts occured to me:

  1. If I get bit by a venemous snake, though only a couple miles from home, the exertion of riding on the hills will surely circulate the venom to my brain and kill me.

  2. Maybe mountain biking is one of those "buddy system" sports. I should have researched this more.

  3. Hey! I can use this as an excuse to turn around early!

So I turned around. The snake, sluggish from his nap (and probably not venomous, for all I know) spared my life. The hills on the way back also spared my life, but only barely.
Next time I'll bring a buddy. Preferably one that I can outrun. A snake's gotta eat, after all.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

The Mother Of All Thistles.

Despite (and because of) hubbub at work, took off today and tomorrow to spend time with the family. Attended Story Time at the Point Richmond Library, wherein a wonderful older woman read books and sang songs to a group of toddlers and other kids of varying attention spans. Melissa and Emma attend this every week, but today was my first time. It was also, apparently, the last time: the woman sadly announced that Richmond is closing all its branch libraries. Budget cuts. Story Time will continue at the Main Library, but it's still incredibly sad.

Later, tackled more of the yard. Melissa weeded and trimmed the planter in the front yard, then I cleaned up old shredded woodchip remnants and laid down new chips. Looks much nicer now, mostly because of Melissa's trimming. I also got to edge the front lawn, finally, now that I have an extension cord long enough for our snazzy new weed whacker to reach.

Best of all, I got permission from the next-door neighbors to take down their Mother Of All Thistles. It was over two feet tall, with dandelion-like flowers and wispy seed pods threatening to unload onto our lawn. In fact, they've probably already unloaded, but that's no reason to let it continue.
You see, the neighbors on one side are an elderly japanese couple. The man (Tak) takes meticulous care of his yard: unbelievably uniform, perfectly edged lawn, and lovingly pruned trees and bushes. It's stunning.
On the other side is a couple, about our age, that seems to completely ignore their lawn. Well, they must mow it occasionally, since it's less than a foot long, but it is home to an impressive array of dandelions, thistles, and other weeds.
I'm not in a position to judge. I'm new to the whole yard thing, and I know next to nothing. But it's funny to see the sequence: spectacular yard, pretty nice yard, terrible yard. I'm pleased that our efforts make a difference, even if it pales next to the splendor of Tak's lawn.