Thursday, February 26, 2009

Smokin'

(Consider this to be the next episode in the Blatant Stupidity series)

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Texas driver's license office to renew my driver's license (obviously) and saw a young man, no older than his early twenties, with a pack of cigarettes in his hand. This got me thinking, since there isn't much else to do at the driver's license office until your number is called. Why in the world would anyone younger than, say, forty even consider smoking? I remember my grade school indoctrination about the evils of smoking, it has been plastered all over the news for over ten years, the health issues are clearly documented, it is being banned in more and more places, and yet alleged smart people continue this nasty, stupid habit.

Both of my parents smoked while I was growing up. When they started, it was at a time when smoking was a symbol of strength and maturity. While that itself was a pretty stupid concept, it at least explains how and why my parents got hooked on nicotine. My father quit smoking cold-turkey about halfway through my childhood because, in his words, "It costs too much." My mother wasn't as lucky. Over the past 10 years she started developing asthma that was getting progressively worse, and every sinus-related illness became bronchitis. About five years ago, her doctor basically said that she needed to quit smoking or she'd die a rather painful death. That was the kick-in-the-butt my mother finally needed to quit. Thankfully nicotine patches made the transition much easier. When she was finally rid of the cigarettes, it was a relief, for her and everyone around her.

Now we're in the next century. Smoking is not considered "cool" anymore. It's expensive. Smoking leaves a horrible odor on the person smoking and permanently on everything around them. It causes people like myself a good deal of respiratory distress that lasts several days. It is messy. It is a fire hazard. Yet knowing all these things people willfully partake in this disgusting habit.

Then there's what my friend Shellie calls, "smoker's attitude." The best example of this can be exemplified by the people who feel that the world is their ashtray (or trash can) and dump every by-product of their disgusting habit wherever they're standing, driving, sitting, etc. On a nice day I could be driving along with my car windows down and - without fail - some ash-hole driving in front of me flicks the ashes, butt, smoke, and anything else they feel like it, out the window of their car. The ashes that get flicked out the window end up in the window of my car, in my face. The butts end up as litter all over the ground at traffic lights or any other place convenient to the smoker. It is a complete disregard for anyone or anything else around them. Not all smokers are this way, but an unfortunate majority of them are.

When people have finally had enough and the smoking bans start getting put into place, these same individuals all of a sudden find themselves being selective-libertarians and start preaching how their "right to smoke" has been violated. I don't recall there being such a right defined in any country's constitution, including the United States. While the right to breathe clean air is certainly not listed there either, I believe that having to endure the effects (and after-effects) of some inconsiderate twit's habit constitutes no less than assault (although the legal system has yet to accept my hypothesis). Better said, your right to smoke ends when it encroaches on my right to breathe clean air. If you want to pollute the air in your own house or car, then go right ahead and do it. It needs to stay there, though.

In this day and age, it is not ignorance that causes people to smoke - it is arrogance and blatant stupidity. It is a physical drug dependence that helps keep them smoking.

The question that went through my head to the young man at the driver's license office was, "What were you thinking?"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Home Improvement Hell

Some home improvement projects should really be easy, but when you do them they end up not.

The least complicated and the simplest project turned out to be a disaster: Replacing the four ceiling fan light bulbs in the living room with dimmable compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. To begin, the old incandescent light bulbs did not come out in one piece. Three of four bulbs came off the base and the potting compound used to fasten the bulb to the base came out all over the floor. The bases had to be forcefully removed with pliers, and none of them came out easily (picture twisted metal). Then I installed the new CFL bulbs, and of course one was defective (now needs to be returned to the store). But the rest of them came on and dimmed, so I figured I was at least three-fourths successful.

Surprise: I was watching TV with the lights dimmed, and went to do a 30-second skip on the TiVo. No response. In fact, no response to the remote control at all. The remote seemed to control the TV, but not the TiVo. The batteries in the remote were fine. What changed? The lights? So I raised the brightness on the CFLs and voila - the remote worked again. The damn dimmable CFLs interfere with the TiVo remote control. So this was basically a $32 waste of money (and time).

I forgot to mention how I sliced my hand (bleeding all over in the process) on the metal rim on the light fixture that I didn't realize had a sharp edge when I was cleaning the the crud from the light bulbs off of it.

The other project was a bigger one, but no less hellish. The shower in my master bathroom has had a problem with mildew that has become impossible to keep under control. So I figured it was time to take the metal/glass wall/door surrounding the shower on two sides apart, remove all the silicone caulk from the seams of the white panels on the other two sides, and re-caulk, clean the framing/glass on the surround, and put it all back together.

I discovered how difficult it was to remove (mildewed) silicone caulk from, well, just about anything. I also discovered why I had the mildew trouble. The original installation of the metal frame that made-up the surround was done improperly and water that seeped into it did not properly drain. As a result there was a bunch of disgusting gunk (a mix of water, soap, skin, dirt, and mold) trapped within. Getting rid of the gunk and reinstalling the surround so it properly drains will go a long way to fixing the mildew problem.

Getting it all put back is going to be interesting, because before I can do that I have to get all the silicone caulk removed completely before re-caulking. In most places I have it 90% removed...but that extra 10% (the thin film of silicone that won't come off) is giving me loads of trouble. I purchased a compound called Caulk Be Gone by DAP (after my tough start removing the caulk) that actually has worked amazingly well. Since I didn't start with this, it will still be difficult to get that last 10% of the caulk off where I first started. I still need to thoroughly clean the wall panels, floor ("shower pan"), glass, and metal framing, and hope it all goes back together with no leaks.

Thankfully the shower in the bathtub in the other bathroom works well, because it'll be at least a few more days before the master bathroom shower can be used again.

The one project that did go well is the replacement of all the smoke detectors (all five of them) in the house. This project resulted from the city inspection of the smoke detectors after I had the new water heater installed, and we found two of the detectors were bad. Those I immediately replaced that day so I could pass inspection, and installed them with an adapter (they were a different brand than the original ones). I decided it would probably be a good idea to just replace the other ones too, so I purchased two smoke detectors and one combination smoke/carbon monoxide detector. These are all "hardwired" (wired into the house's electrical system) detectors, so I decided to undo the adapters on the other two and wire everything properly.

Electrical wiring: The one thing I can always count on doing well.

The smoke/CO detector talks as well. When the smoke detectors go-off, it starts saying, "Fire. Fire. Fire." The voice sounds a lot like a female Beavis & Butt-Head, forcing me to laugh at this otherwise serious device that I hope will never need to actually do what it does.

The next two things upcoming are to replace the heating/air conditioning system and the gutters on the rear of the house (which may end up being the whole house). I'm paying someone to do both of these. Nevertheless, I'm scared.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hooray for KEYE

Hats off to Austin's KEYE-TV tonight.

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the federal government decided to extend the deadline for stopping the transmission of analog TV signals to June. While the deadline was extended, TV stations that felt they were ready to change-over in full could do so on February 17 as scheduled.

KEYE-TV is the only Austin television station that is going to make the move on February 17 (tonight). In their news report tonight, they explained how they were ready for the switch. Not only did they prepare their own equipment, but they operated outreach programs and telephone hotlines to help people understand the switch to digital television (DTV). They also had their own engineers make house calls to individuals with exceptional circumstances to provide help. They are going to actually expand this help as soon as they turn off their analog signal at midnight.

It isn't easy for a television station to take a stand such as this. There will be people who criticize KEYE for cutting off their analog signal earlier than everyone else. I see KEYE as very forward-thinking. Four months later people will be no more ready to make the transition than they are now. KEYE recognizes this and by taking this stand and remaining prepared to help others make the transition, they are taking the heat in order to help people go to DTV. This move will benefit all the Austin TV stations, who will reap the benefits of KEYE's decision.

So to all you good folks at KEYE, I salute you. I'm sure there are others who feel as I do, and please remember that when people accuse you of abandoning low-income viewers and so on. You didn't. You couldn't provide any more help to people to make the DTV transition. Thank you.

A slightly less bold move has been done by the local PBS station, who will make the DTV switch on March 31. That's better than June.

So I'm going to be up at midnight tonight to watch KEYE's analog signal go away. What a cool, momentous event.