Taken a few years ago at some joint on Broadway in Nashville, this was one of several photos with good-looking girls I had never laid eyes on before. It wasn't my birthday, but the Nissan crew was telling every attractive female we encountered that it was. Here's to getting older!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hot Water: Yes, It Is Important

An unexpected project.
I'm not the kind of guy who bellyaches about minor inconveniences – particularly those that will be short lived. I can deal with a center seat in steerage on an airplane ride of an hour or two without grumbling. I don't like it. Fortunately, I don't often do it. But I will if I must.

It was in this spirit of resignation that I faced a few days of cold showers when I returned home from an eight-day house-painting stint in Florida to discover that my water heater had given up the ghost. I wasn't surprised. When I purchased this house in 2007, I was aware its water heater had some rust around its base. It was obviously old at that point. I probably should have insisted it be replaced as a condition of purchase, but didn't.

I'm not a fan of crawl spaces; consequently, I take every opportunity to ignore mine. Once a year or so I open the access door and, waving a flashlight around, take a quick look to make sure nothing is blatantly amiss. In addition to the water heater, the air handler is down there as well. I spent a couple of days my first winter in the crawl space getting the furnace back up to speed. It wasn't pleasant. (Oh, Grasshopper, home ownership isn't all it's cracked up to be.)

The crawl-space access. The black thing in the right margin is a bookcase that had to be cleared and moved.

My tri-level house is built on an incline. The main floor is in the front with six steps leading up to two bedrooms and a bath in the rear, and six steps leading down to a bedroom, bath and my office. The crawl-space access is off the short hall between my office and the downstairs guestroom.

As these nasty areas go, mine is the Taj Mahal of crawl spaces. Through the access door, you drop down about two feet to a dirt floor covered wall to wall in heavy plastic sheeting. It only runs under the main floor. If it wasn't for the main-floor floor joists, I could almost stand upright. As it is, I have to crouch a little to move around. 

Gee, looks fine to me. Why isn't it working?
Situated just to the left of the access door as you enter the space, the water heater is pretty accessible. I'd estimate the old unit to be 30 years old or more. It was old enough that the hot- and cold-water lines were copper that were part of the unit. They extended from the top about eight inches where they could be soldered on to the house lines. The 240V electric line was hardwired through an opening in the top.

Water-heater manufacturers make a short-squat unit for installation in confined areas such as a crawl space. They are roughly 31 inches high and 24 inches wide. Weight: about 100 pounds.

With only a few days between my Florida visit and a planned trip to Tucson, I had intended to do some writing. I haven't been very ambitious where writing is concerned since Thanksgiving, doing the minimum to keep me in groceries, and content for my Web site and blog at least somewhat current. I didn't type a productive word while in Florida. I was due. In fact, I considered not addressing the water-heater issue until returning from Tucson. I could endure a few more days of cold showers, right? Right.

Curiosity, though, got the better of me and I embarked on an Internet search for water heaters. After an hour or two of comparing models and prices, I decided Home Depot was in the ballpark. With one of its stores just a mile or so from my house, I looked at what was available for store pickup. I found exactly what I needed online and my store had it. I decided to go on a fact-finding mission to see what delivery and installation might cost. Jumping in the Toyota Yaris I have this week, I drove the five minutes required to reach my Home Depot and headed for the water-heater aisle. There I found Steve.

Steve and I talked water heaters for a few minutes. He actually seemed to know what he was talking about – not always the case at this store. Turns out that Home Depot has a $20 delivery pilot program for appliances and such. They put the merchandise on a pickup truck and unload it at your door. My store happens to be one of the test stores. I didn't even get as far as determining the cost for installation because Steve launched into a discussion of compression joints for copper that eliminates the need to solder. What! Hey, I can do this myself in a day, I thought. Soldering would have added time and a lot of uncertainty to the project. I've soldered copper plumbing before and it was a real challenge. Taking soldering off the table filled me with enthusiasm for the project.

I paid for the water heater/delivery and set the delivery time for the next morning. The delivery guy knocked on my door at 9:15 the next morning. My new water heater was sitting in my carport. I flipped the guy ten bucks to help me carry it down to my office.

A bigger job than installing the new unit was disconnecting the old one. That involved draining the tank, cutting the water lines, unhooking the electric lines and wrestling the unit out of the crawl space.

Draining the tank; sounds easy, right? Yeah, not so much. Opening the drain valve didn't produce so much as a single drip of water. Not one, nyet, nada, zero, zip, zilch. Crap. Thirty some years of sediment clogged the drain. I retreated to my PC and searched “water heater won't drain” on the Internet. Two solutions came up that seemed feasible. One, work an old coat hanger into the drain to try to break the sediment loose. Two, use an air compressor to force the sediment loose. I tried the coat-hanger approach: no joy. My air compressor was already in one of the upstairs bedrooms where a remodeling project is currently underway. I fetched it. Hooking a garden hose to the drain, I took the other end into the downstairs shower. Firing up the compressor, I forced air into the hose and was rewarded 10 seconds later with a surge of rusty, sediment-filled water squirting into the shower. I had to repeat the operation several times because the sediment continued to settle, blocking the drain.

Eventually the flow of water from the tank ceased entirely. I disconnected the hose. I cut the water lines, disconnected the electric and maneuvered the old tank off the concrete blocks on which it was resting. I worked it to a point where I could lay it on its side and then rolled it out of the way. With my main goal being to get the hot water flowing again, I decided not to waste any time or energy trying to get the old tank out of the crawl space and then out of the house. I had no clue what I would do with it at that point anyway. I left it on its side in the crawl space (where it remains) and moved on to installing the new unit.

Where old water heaters go to die.
Installation involved getting the new tank down into the crawl space, working it into position, connecting the electric, connecting the water lines, turning the water back on and flipping on the water-heater circuit breaker. Easy-peasy.

Laying the new tank on its side in front of the access opening, I eased into the crawl space and pulled the tank in after me. Working it into place, I leveled it. I connected stainless steal hoses to the three-quarter-inch male connectors on the tank. The other end of the hoses had those miraculous compression fittings that simply snapped over the ends of the copper water lines. This is the greatest advancement since scoopable kitty litter. Once the unit was in place, the installation required about 15 minutes.

I turned the water line into the house back on. My circuit-breaker box is outside; so, I headed out and flipped the water-heater breaker. I didn't put anything away yet. I wanted to make sure I had hot water. I figured 30 minutes would tell the tale. I didn't smell smoke and decided I had managed not to muck up connecting the two wires necessary to get the unit operational. 

Oh, maker of hot water.
I amused myself catching up on some e-mails while I waited. Is this suspenseful or what? At the end of 30 minutes I turned on the hot water tap in the downstairs bath....COLD! I cussed for three minutes and never repeated myself.

Storming out to the circuit-breaker box, I ripped it open only to discover that I hadn't flipped the water-heater breaker on, but had flipped the air-handler breaker off. I flipped them both on and settled back in in front of my PC for another 30-minute wait.

The screaming you may have heard around 6:00 that night was me celebrating the first trickle of hot water from my bathroom faucet. I jumped, I danced, I cheered, I cried. It was a spectacle that scared the cat and wrenched my back. If I was in better shape – younger, I mean – I would have been turning cartwheels in the front yard.

Clean up took another hour or so as I returned tools to my shed, the compressor to the upstairs bedroom and ran the vacuum. But I got my first hot shower in three days. It was glorious!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Interseller: A Trip to Nowhere

I'm not the kind of guy who hates a movie simply because it's overly long. I like, for example, “Gone with the Wind” and “Godfather II.”

However, when a movie drags on for hours just because a director apparently can't cut a second of it, then length becomes an issue for me. Such was the case last weekend when I rented the Blu-ray version of “Intersteller.”

Painfully drawn out, this thing went on for nearly three long, eye-watering hours. It's length caught me totally unawares. I popped it, the first of a two-movie double header I had planned, into my player at around 7:30. It didn't finally grind to a halt until nearly 10:30. I still had another 90-minute feature to go.

Co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan – best known for writing and directing “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Dark Knight” and “Batman Begins” – I expected more: not longer, better.

Here's the storyline: Earth is dying. NASA had been officially abolished (Art imitating life?) to save money and resources transferred to farming. But, hold the phone! NASA continued on in secret. Scientists discovered a wormhole through which NASA had sent several separate space ships full of people in search of a planet to send what was left of Earth's population. Suddenly, some unknown force reaches out to Cooper, who happens to be the greatest space-ship pilot of all time, but who has been farming for the last decade, and his daughter leading them to the secret NASA base.

With me so far?

Secret NASA's head honcho convinces Cooper to abandon his family and pilot a mission through the wormhole to check on any surviving ships, eventually returning – decades later – with the location of a planet capable of sustaining human life. Of course, the head honcho's daughter must accompany Cooper on the trip. From this point forward – more than an hour into the film – it's one big jumbled mess of time travel, conspiracies and implausible plot gimmicks. What a train wreck.

McConaughey and Hathaway on their mission to the outer reaches of boring.

By the time the mission finally lifts off, I was ready for the end credits. I still had almost two hours to go.

Admittedly, my patience, in part, was tested because Matthew McConaughey played Cooper. As with Will Ferrel, I can endure – and sometimes even enjoy – McConaughey in small doses. His less than five minutes on screen in another overly long film, “Wall Street,” is about all of old Matt I can take. Get him on, let him over act for a couple of minutes and then get him off screen. I'm down.

But three hours of McConaughey is like death from a thousand cuts for me. On and on and on and on.....

There are some big names in “Intersteller”: Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow (thought he was dead), Anne Hathaway, William Devane and Micheal Caine. None of them, save Hathaway, had more than 10 to 12 total minutes on camera. I could have done with more Devane and less McConaughey. Oh, and Matt Damon played a bad-guy space colonist.

I suspect I hold the minority opinion on both the movie and McConaughey, but I watch movies to be entertained; I wasn't.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Nature of Junk Mail: Trends Over 15 to 20 Years

I'm not the kind of guy who always keeps up with things. “Things” being those niggling chores around the house. I'll kick into high gear when I know company's a'comin', but otherwise, a little dust here or some clutter in an out-of-the-way spot where I don't have to constantly look at it there gets a pass.

Spare bedroom renovation continues: The new closet is now primed.
Cleaning out my upstairs spare bedroom of the life's flotsam collected there over the eight years I've lived in Greenville has been part of that room's refurbish. The room has admirably served as a storage area for unpacked boxes, still partially filled cardboard wardrobes and assorted brick-a-brac that mysteriously accumulates over years of indiscriminate keeping in lieu of selective tossing out. It didn't quite attain the level of a hoarder's lair, but there was a lot of crap in there that I didn't need, never used and should never have held on to in the first place.

Several boxes of stuff I may use again someday, such as Christmas decorations, I transferred to the new shed. A couple of unopened boxes that managed to survive a series of moves over the course of four decades, were opened, weaned of worthless items and consolidated into one box before the trip to the shed; no doubt not to be looked at again until some poor relative sifts through my puny belongings after my passing. Still remaining in the room are a few odds and ends, whose fate is stalled by my ambivalence. I'll deal with them one way or another once the room is finished.

Squirreled away amid this mass of junk was an industrial trash bag stuffed with mail, papers, financial odds and ends, and other items displaying my contact or personal information. In other words, stuff someone could use to burgle my identity – for all the good that would do them. It was easily 20-to-25 pounds of paperwork. Some of it moved with me from Florida. The rest accumulated here during those periods when I was without a shredder.

This mountain of trash had to go, but where and how? I have a shredder; but not only would shredding it take days, no every-day home shredder could possibly hold up under scores of hours of relentless shredding. I could always haul the bag to a commercial shredder. However, I'm just paranoid enough not to trust someone else with my financial info – I mean, that was the point of holding onto this sea of paper in the first place – and besides, I don't like paying someone else to do something I am perfectly capable of doing myself.

My solution was to burn the offending materials in my fireplace. So far I have conducted three burns and still roughly one-third of it remains.

Working through 15 years of mail is as revealing as an archaeological dig. As I have burrowed down from the more recent mail to the older, I've discovered major shifts in the types of junk mail I've received over the years.

Today my junk mail consists mostly of solicitations from TV providers. A tidal wave of paper from Direct TV, Dish TV and Charter Cable fills my mailbox on nearly a daily basis. I can't even estimate the tons of paper these services destroy each year trying to poach my business from ATT Uverse. Eighty percent of the mail I currently shred is related to TV-content providers. This was also the case with the most recent layers of junk mail in my junk-mail bag.

As I have worked my way back in junk-mail time, however, I am reminded of a happier era before there was much in the way of TV-content-provider choices. My junk mail from a decade ago is mostly financial in nature. Credit-card companies vying for my business provided the bulk of my junk mail. “Pre-Approved” stamped in red ink decorates the front of many of these envelopes. “Transfer Current Balances” coaxes opening headlines of the letters the envelopes contain.

Yes, times have changed and with it the nature of junk mail. But come it still does. Thankfully, though, today's junk mail is more likely to be in the form of e-mails. I delete at least 20 e-mails each and every day from sources and on topics I don't give a hoot about.

Although not happy about the daily “delete” ritual, at least the only thing wasted is my time: not paper. And, I don't have to shred the damn things.