Month: May 2017

Sunday, 21 May 2017

09:12 – It was 62.7F (17C) when I took Colin out at about 0650 this morning, foggy and with a mist just short of a drizzle. When I looked at the thermometer an hour or so later, it’d dropped to 59F. We have cool temperatures, rain, and thunderstorms in the forecast for most of this week.

We got a lot of bottles filled yesterday, with several hundred more to fill today. With the downstairs unfinished area crammed full of furniture, books, etc., we’re short of space to put the completed bags of bottles, so they’re just sitting on the dining room table for now.

With a few exceptions, notably herbs, the stuff Barbara planted in the garden and in containers out on the deck is thriving. She did a row of turnips in the garden, which she thinned yesterday. We’re going to have lots of turnips. And Barbara has named herself “Weeding Wench”. I made no comment; having been married for 30+ years, I know better.

When she came in from the garden, she said she needed to put in trellises for some of the plants. She plans to use metal fence posts and twine. So I ordered her 1.3 miles (2 km) of twine on Amazon, which should be a lifetime supply.


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Saturday, 20 May 2017

08:58 – It was 59F (15C) when I took Colin out at about 0640 this morning, sunny and calm. It’s already up to 76F. We did have thunder and lightning yesterday afternoon and overnight, but only about 0.2″ (0.5cm) of rain.

We filled bottles yesterday, including 142 bottles of starch indicator solution for chemistry kits. That presents an interesting problem, because starch solution is an ideal growth medium for molds, and the polyethylene bottles can’t be autoclaved or they’ll melt. Boiling the solution kills all of the microorganisms in it, but it doesn’t kill mold spores. Once the bottled solution cools, the mold spores germinate. We do add a small amount of thymol to the solution, which helps but isn’t a complete solution.

So we use a process invented in the 19th century by a scientist named Tyndal. That process, called Tyndallization, involves submerging the bottles in boiling water to kill all the live microorganisms (but not the mold spores). We then allow the bottles to sit for several days at room temperature, whereupon any spores present germinate into live mold organisms. When all the spores have had a chance to germinate, we again submerge the bottles in boiling water to kill the new live mold.

Back when Tyndal developed his process, autoclaves and home-size pressure cookers weren’t yet available. Pressure canning was done, but only on a commercial scale. Tyndallization was the only option for home- or lab-scale autoclaving. Interestingly, that process is still used today as an alternative to pressure canning or autoclaving to sterilize materials that won’t stand up to the temperatures used for those modern processes.



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Friday, 19 May 2017

09:14 – It was 64.5F (18C) when I took Colin out at about 0645 this morning, sunny and calm. Rain and thunderstorms are to move in late this morning.

A few weeks ago, Barbara met Frances and Al down in Elkin to walk around and visit the various retailers. One of those was Horton’s grocery. They had 2-liter Cokes on sale for $1 each, so Barbara picked up 16 of them for me. What surprised me was that they were packaged in heavy black plastic racks that held eight bottles each. She’d asked if she could have the racks to carry all the bottles and the Horton’s folks didn’t object. The racks don’t look disposable to me. I’d guess they probably cost a couple bucks each. So I figured we’d just hold onto them and use them to organize LTS food that we’d transferred to 2-liter Coke bottles.

Then, a couple days ago, we stopped at the Alleghany General Store, which is quarter mile up US21 from our house, on the way back from a trip into town. They had 2-liter Cokes for $0.89 each, again in the black plastic racks, so we bought two more racks’ worth. And again the guy just assumed we’d take the Cokes in the racks. He even helped us load them into Barbara’s car.

This is apparently a new thing with Coke bottlers/distributors, or at least with ours. So we’ll keep getting Coke in the racks. 2-liter bottles are great for repackaging LTS food like sugar, rice, pinto beans, and even macaroni. The one downside is that the loose bottles don’t stack very well, which these racks solve. With them, we won’t even need shelf space for 2-liter bottles. We can just stack them on the floor, several high. In fact, I think I’ll ask the guy at the Alleghany General Store if he normally discards them. If so, I’ll ask him to save them for us.

More work on science kits today. We have lots of labeled bottles to fill, and lots more bottles to get labeled. Fortunately, it’s pleasant out in the garage, where we normally fill bottles.

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Thursday, 18 May 2017

08:44 – It was 66.3F (19C) when I took Colin out at about 0645 this morning, sunny and calm.

Things are proceeding with the repairs to the house. Barbara and I went over to the flooring place yesterday. I wanted to look at the vinyl tile we’re having put on the floor downstairs, and we both wanted to see what they had in the way of ceramic tile for the master bathroom. I approved Barbara’s choice of the vinyl tile for downstairs, not that my approval was needed, and we picked out the ceramic tile and grout.

Barbara’s volunteering schedule has been juggled because she’s filling in for volunteers who have family issues. She’s working this afternoon rather than her usual Tuesday afternoon at the Friends of the Library bookstore. This morning, we’ll fill more bottles for science kits.

Email overnight from Jen, just checking in. Like us, their prepping is pretty much steady-state now. All of their major purchases have been made, so they’re just replacing what they use and occasionally adding stuff incrementally to boost their stocking levels. Their last major purchase was spread out over several orders in February/March; 20 cases, 240 cans of 28-ounce Keystone canned meats, about $1,500 worth. As Jen said, that sounds like a lot, but it’s really only 40 cans and $250 each.

They’re reasonably content with their prepping level now. They’re continuing to run readiness exercises, but they’ve become just holiday family get-togethers without utility power. They have one planned for the Memorial Day weekend.

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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

09:18 – It was 66.1F (19C) when I took Colin out at about 0645 this morning, sunny and calm. It’s already up to 81F (27C).

The insurance adjuster emailed me their estimated settlement figure yesterday. It’s partial because it doesn’t include much of the costs we’d incur refinishing the entire upstairs hardwood floors, including incidental costs like having everything we own moved out and then moved back in when they finish work, putting us up in a hotel for 10 days, and so forth. And all because the floors are continuous, so if they refinish some they have to refinish all.

Barbara and I talked about it last night and agreed that we’re just not going to do that. From our point of view, it’d be a royal PITA to have everything redone, and we don’t want to deal with it. Also, we agreed that it was unfair to expect the insurance company to pay for all that. Yes, technically they’re supposed to make us whole, to restore things to exactly where they were, less our deductible. But neither of us sees any point to costing State Farm many thousands of dollars to do work that we really don’t want to be done anyway. So we decided that we’ll accept their initial payment as payment in full. Sometime in the next week or so, I’ll call our State Farm claims manager and tell her we don’t want any more money from them. I’ll bet that’s not something she hears every day.

The guy from the floor place just came out to measure downstairs. While he was here, we told him that Shaw Brothers had quoted us on replacing the hardwood floor in the master bath, but we didn’t want to do that. He suggested ceramic tile for that room, which Barbara and I agreed was the best choice. So he measured the bath to quote us on that.

I said the other day that we were having plastic composite flooring installed downstairs. That’s wrong. What we’re actually having installed is called LVT, Luxury Vinyl Tile. It’s solid vinyl, recycled not from soft drink bottles, but from PVC pipe. It looks like wood, but is pretty much bulletproof.

More work on science kit stuff today.

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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

09:34 – It was 57.3F (14C) when I took Colin out at about 0645 this morning, again sunny and calm.

The insurance adjuster showed up yesterday about 10:30. We started in the master bathroom upstairs, where the hardwood floor had been flooded and warped. I expected him to say they’d pay for sanding it down and refinishing it, which he did. But then he started measuring the whole upstairs, saying that since the hardwood floor is continuous upstairs they’d pay to have all of it sanded down and refinished. The laundry room, kitchen, den, dining room, foyer and the large foyer closet, master bedroom, master bath, and master closet. Geez. That I didn’t expect. He said we’d have to have all the furniture moved out, which they’d pay for, and we’d have to stay in a hotel for a week to ten days, which they’d also pay for. I told him that I doubted that Barbara would go for that. He said it didn’t matter. They’d pay for it no matter how much or how little we decided to do. So what we’ll probably do is have the floor in the master bath replaced and refinished and just put a divider strip in the doorway.

Downstairs, they’re going to replace the sheetrock ceiling and pay to replace the carpeting in the major room, along with incidentals like repairing some wall damage, repainting, and so on. I told him that we planned to replace the ceiling with a drop ceiling, and he said that was fine. They’d pay to replace the sheetrock, and he said that’d cost more than installing a drop ceiling. He suggested that instead of replacing the carpet we install ceramic tile, which would cost more than carpet, but be much more durable, particularly if we ever had another leak. He said that’d cost more than reinstalling carpet and they would pay only the cost of the carpet, but that’s what he would do if this were his house. I told him we’d already discussed installing a ceramic tile floor, but the contractor had suggested instead installing plastic laminate fake-wood flooring. He said that was a good choice, and should cost about the same or perhaps a bit less than installing carpet.

I also gave him the pipe sections and fittings that the plumber had left with us. He was very interested in those, and said there’s no way this should have happened in a house built only ten years ago. He said this could work out to our benefit, because they’d make a subrogation claim with the pipe/fitting manufacturers, and any money they recovered from them would go first toward paying our deductible.

So the upshot is that we shouldn’t be much, if any, out of pocket on the repairs. We’re going to have the plastic laminate flooring installed downstairs and live with it for a while. If we like it, instead of refinishing the floors upstairs, which take a real beating from Colin’s claws, we’ll install the plastic laminate up here as well. Barbara is happy with the whole situation, other of course than the upheaval that we’ll be living amidst for the next few weeks.

Barbara made her first supermarket run to the new Grant’s place yesterday. She said she was very happy with it. The place is very clean, both in terms of organization and lack of dirt. The layout is pretty much the same as the old Lowes, and they carry much the same items. She said their prices were comparable.

Based on the flyer that came with last week’s newspaper, the prices look pretty good to me. There were a couple of odd items, though. My favorite was cartons of 18 eggs at ten for $10. Who the hell buys 180 eggs at a time? Well, I might, if I were comfortable dehydrating them myself, which I’m not. I suppose I could dehydrate them and then dry can them in the oven for an hour or two at 450F to sterilize them, but that’s more of a project than I’m ready to undertake at the moment.

Speaking of projects, I just mentioned to Barbara that I’d like to put up some shelf brackets and 1×10’s or 1×12’s in Frances’ and Al’s bedroom closet downstairs. Barbara calls it the water closet, because it currently has something like 500 liters of bottled water stacked in it. I need to measure the heights and widths of our standard containers–#10 cans, 2-liter soft drink bottles, and so forth–to decide how wide the shelves need to be and the optimum vertical spacing.

More work on science kit stuff today.


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Monday, 15 May 2017

08:54 – It was 60.7F (16C) when I took Colin out at about 0645 this morning, sunny and calm.

Barbara is headed off to the gym this morning while I await the insurance adjuster and contractor. She’s going to stop at the supermarket on her way home. The Lowes where she formerly shopped closed down a few weeks ago. Another regional supermarket chain, Grant’s, took over the location and opened for business Saturday. Since Lowes closed, Barbara had been picking up milk and bread at the local Food Lion (hawk, spit), so she’s looking forward to having a decent supermarket to shop at again.

This afternoon and the rest of the week we’ll be doing science kit stuff. I’m not sure when the contractor will be starting work downstairs, but no doubt we’ll have at least several days’ worth of chaos when that happens.

We had a frozen pizza for dinner last night, and the chocolate cake we made yesterday afternoon for our evening snack. The chocolate cake was from the modified King Arthur Flour recipe I posted previously. It takes about five minutes to mix from scratch.

One of the things I really like about the King Arthur recipes is that they list ingredient amounts three ways: by traditional cup/fluid-ounce/tablespoon measure; by traditional weight; and by metric weight. North America is about the only place traditional volume measures are still used in recipes. The rest of the world generally uses weight, which is a lot more precise and reproducible.

As a scientist, I’ve always cooked/baked using weights rather than volumes for just that reason. Doing that obviously requires a scale. The one we use and recommend is actually a shipping scale. We actually have two of them that we’ve been using for years, one of them in the kitchen and the other in the downstairs work area. They cost under $30, weigh in pounds and ounces or metric, have a capacity of 110 pounds (50 kg), a resolution of 1 g at weights up to 20 kg and 2 g up to 50 kg, and operate on AC power or three AAA cells. I periodically verify them against standard weights, and they’ve remained spot-on since we bought them.

In addition to using them in the kitchen and for their intended purpose weighing shipping boxes, we also use them for repackaging LTS food, doing weigh-counts on bulk items, and so on. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, 14 May 2017

10:01 – It was 48.3F (9C) when I took Colin out at about 0645 this morning, sunny and calm. We had another inch or so (2.5 cm) of rain in the 24 hours ending yesterday afternoon.

Calligra seems to be fine for my purposes. The default theme was terrible. Hover-over tool tips, for example, were displayed at white text on a pale yellow background, making them unreadable. Switching themes cleared that up right away.

I haven’t tried it with a long document yet. The biggest I’ve edited with Calligra Words is listed on the bottom status line as 164 pages. It seems to work fine. I’m intrigued by another part of the suite, Calligra Author, which is described as an e-book editor. The only real difference I see between it and Words is that Author offers the ability to save-as epub. That seems like a pretty minor feature to justify calling Author a completely separate component.

Things are a bit disorganized here. We had to move a bunch of furniture out of the affected area downstairs, which is about 400 square feet (40 square meters). So we have tons of books and other stuff stacked in the unfinished area. The two downstairs bedrooms, which were affected only slightly (damp carpet right at the doorways, etc.) are also crammed full of stuff from the affected area. That makes it very difficult to get to anything, let alone add more.

There’s still about three person-months’ worth of dry bulk food on a cart out in the garage. Barbara picked it up on her Costco run a week or so ago, but we can’t repackage it until we can get to stuff like empty bottles, oxygen absorbers, etc. that are inaccessible in the main deep pantry downstairs. For the time being, we’ll move it into the laundry room upstairs until we have the time and supplies to repackage it.

Barbara said yesterday, “No more food, please.” Which is a fair request. We’re currently in pretty good shape on food, everything from dry bulk LTS stuff to canned goods, including meat. Enough to keep Barbara, Colin, Frances, Al, and me fed for a long time. As usually happens to serious preppers, the question becomes when is enough enough? We’re not at that point, yet, but we’re comfortable enough to take a break from adding more stuff other than incidentals.

Thinking about it this morning, I decided that we’re better-prepared than 99.99% of the general population and probably 99% of serious preppers. That’ll just have to do, for now.

Barbara announced a few days ago that she wanted to bake cookies this weekend, but when I asked this morning she said that could wait. She wants to make a chocolate cake instead, so that’s what we’ll be having for our evening snack.


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Saturday, 13 May 2017

07:25 – It was 48.1F (9C) when I took Colin out at about 0615 this morning, damp and foggy again. Colin and I had an early evening, doing last time out and heading back to bed around 2015. I was pretty beat, and needed more than my usual seven hours or so of sleep.

After she finished volunteering at the Friends of the Library bookstore at 1700 yesterday, Barbara drove down to Winston to meet Frances and Al for dinner. She considered driving back yesterday, but I encouraged her to stay down there overnight, so she’ll be heading back up to Sparta later this morning.

Yesterday, the crew from Shaw Brothers ripped out the existing gypsum board ceiling and insulation and tore up the carpet and pad, which was glued to the concrete floor. The whole place is soaked. They left a big fan running downstairs. It’ll probably take several days or longer to dry the place out. Jay Shaw stopped by around lunchtime to drop off his quote for the whole job, including replacing the ceiling with a drop ceiling and installing new fake-wood flooring. It was just over $8,000. It’ll be interesting to see how much of that the insurance covers.

Speaking of the drop ceiling, one of the guys on the crew had helped build this house back in 2006/2007. He told us that they’d tried to convince the original owner to install a drop ceiling then, but he didn’t want to pay the additional cost. I wish he had, because this project would have been a lot less expensive if there’d been a drop ceiling already in place.

I finally decided to give up on LibreOffice. It’s gotten less and less stable over the years, which is ironic considering that the reason I started using OpenOffice back in my pre-Linux days was that MS Office was very unstable on large documents. LO has gotten worse with each release, and I’ve started seeing some really weird bugs. Even completely uninstalling it, nuking it from orbit, and reinstalling it doesn’t solve some of the problems.

A couple of months ago, for example, it started randomly pasting text into arbitrary places in a large document. I’d highlight a sentence or paragraph, cut it, copy it elsewhere, and later on I’d find that there were two or three (or more) instances of that text pasted randomly elsewhere in the document. Then, two or three weeks ago, an open instance of LO would no longer show up on my task bar. That made it almost unusable for me, because I often work with half a dozen or more open documents.

So yesterday I looked to see what else was available. Several of those I’d already looked at and decided not to use for one reason or another. I settled on Calligra Suite, which is the KDE office suite. So far, it looks good. It doesn’t have all of the features of LibreOffice, but so far I haven’t noticed anything missing that I can’t live without.


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Friday, 12 May 2017

08:41 – It was 55.2F (13C) when I took Colin out at about 0640 this morning, damp and foggy. The crew from Shaw Brothers showed up around 0730 to gut the downstairs den. There’s a crew of four, so it shouldn’t take too long.

I disconnected the router to get it out of their way. I carried it into the unfinished area, where the fiber-optic terminal adapter lives, intending to plug it directly into the jack on the TA. My cunning plan failed, because there is no jack on the TA, just the cable that runs out into the downstairs den.

So I asked the guys if it didn’t matter to them to rip out the carpet, pad, and ceiling in the corner where the router goes first. They set me up an inverted bucket to put the router on, and our Internet and TV are back up.

Barbara volunteers at the museum after lunch. When she closes up at 1700, she’s heading down to Winston to meet Frances and Al for dinner. She considered driving back up here after dinner, but I suggested she just stay tonight with them and drive back up in the morning. It’s been a very stressful time, particularly for Barbara. If there’s anything a librarian hates, it’s disorganization. She’s lived with my disorganization for the last 33+ years, but this is a whole different level of disorganization. I figured she could use a break from it. Then, of course, we’ll continue to have everything a mess when Shaw comes back out to install the new floor and ceiling.

Barbara went over to the flooring place yesterday to pick out flooring. We were originally thinking about installing ceramic tile, but when he was out to work up an estimate, Jay Shaw recommended plastic fake-wood flooring. It’s basically like the stuff that we used when we had our deck replaced in Winston. Essentially 100% recycled soft drink bottles, with pigments and surface texture added. It’s extremely durable, particularly when used indoors, and it’s a lot softer than ceramic tile.



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