Sorry about that. This home ownership thing has been keeping me pretty busy.
I won’t bore you with the million little things I’ve done over the past months as a homeowner, but will instead hit the highlights with no detail. Fixed a leaking washer pump, replumbed our kitchen drain stack with a vent and installed the utility sink below it, started weeding the billion dandelions that own our lawn, sealed up every decently sized hole and crack that lead outside, got our chimneys repaired, hung a bunch of stuff, repaired a hole in an exterior wall, hung some curtains, and a zillion other little things. Suffice to say, I’m marking off a completed project near every day.
In order to complete those projects, we’ve bought a handful of new toys/tools that I’d highly recommend. Since we have a shoddy electrical setup in the house and don’t have any outlets outside (I seek to install one soon), and because it is more green and flexible, I’ve gone all cordless with the new purchases. Battery technology is to a point where you can get some serious voltage with lithium-ion (read: does not wear out like nickel cadmium) and at a reasonable price so we’ve adopted that.
First up, the Dewalt 20v tool set. We only have the drill and reciprocating saw at this time, but will expand our collection as we need to. There were concerns over just how powerful batteries could be, but the drill could easily rip itself out of my hands, and the sawzall cut through cast iron pipe like butter.
With spring upon us, we also needed some yard tools as we sold our mower before moving (at a profit, I might add!). After a lot of research, we ended up with the GreenWorks 40v mower and trimmer setup. Between the two batteries that came with the mower, I can mow the entire lawn, trim everything, and even edge most of it before running out of juice. My back runs out of juice way before that, though. The mower is not a perfect replacement for gas and if the lawn is long, I’ll need to run over some strips twice to mulch it properly, but I’m happy. I went with this brand because the batteries are very portable, which is ideal since I have to charge them in our basement. Some brands have a single battery that weighs a ton; these combined weigh nothing. No more need for a stinky gas can, spills, noise, and terrible pollution, either. We also picked up a Fiskars garden knife, which has made weeding addictively fun.
Our only other notable purchase is a badass new ladder. We’ve got a bad roof, our gutters are clogged, and every house needs a ladder. I debated this long and hard, but Home Depot had a crazy sale on a Werner 22-foot telescoping ladder that we couldn’t pass up. I was eyeing the 17-foot, but they were basically giving the 22 away so we had to pick it up. Far larger than we need, but really, the price was ridiculous. It has some pretty slick features and for a massive ladder, is pretty light. I need to pick up a roof standoff since we have gutters pretty much all around and they’re my main concern, but that’s only 2-days/1-click away.
And I lied. We had another notable purchase. A car. We moved here with plans to go to one car. Learning new roads in a hilly town while also trying to learn manual (my car) was not ideal for Heather so we’ve gone auto and the GTI is for sale. We’ve replaced it with a 2009 Audi A4 Avant Prestige (fully loaded). Note that the perspective of that photo makes it look massive; it is large, but hardly massive. I normally wouldn’t buy an “older” or higher mileage (50k) Audi, but this is certified pre-owned for another year and a half so we’ve got time to safely find out whether it is a dud or not. Aside from consuming some oil (100% of them do), it has treated us well. It is a little less sporty than I’d like, but its softness soaks up the miles and makes driving an effortless joy. We also earned a healthy amount of cash by going from two to one so that’s nice.
Our first trip with the car was for our 2nd anniversary weekend to the coast. I was in Arlington for work the preceding week, and as has become the norm on anniversary weekends (two in a row!) I told Heather to pack a bag with very little notice (I think I was at the airport in DC). I got home late on Friday night, and we had hit the road by early Saturday morning. First stop was Cannon Beach, which is the home of Haystack Rock aka the beach in The Goonies. We walked around for a bit (great little town that we hope to spend many a sleepy weekend at), grabbed some crepes, a kite, and made our way up to Seaside. Again, a nice beach and we flew our kite around it, but the town was very reminiscent of Manassas meeting… I don’t know. Think of a grungy, touristy beach that you’d see a bunch of people from Manassas at. Yes, I said it. We won’t be back. From there, we made our way up the coast a bit more (on US-101 – so money!!!) to our final stop at Astoria, where we’d grub properly, do some scenic stuffs, and spend the night to the tune of barking sea lions. Very cool little town with great views and some smaller, but really nicely done museums. Will be a great day trip for us in the future. Oh, also the town that The Goonies was filmed in. That’s right; the town and the beach from the movie are not the same, and the kids did not make the 30-mile trip on those bikes of theirs. A great, adventurous weekend to celebrate what’s been a great and adventurous marriage. Photos from the weekend here.
Above I mentioned being back in Arlington. I spent a week back for work. I managed to see a lot of folks and eat entirely too much good food. Ray’s, Super Pollo, halal, Grand Cru late-night bread pudding, and much more. I put on a solid five pounds despite getting a few miles of running and 40-miles of sometime drunken stationary cycling in at the hotel. We’ll be back in town for a very short visit (this is our NC visit for the year) for the Race For Hope on May 4. We might be available to see folks on the 3rd, but it’d be awesome if people came out to the race and participated in any capacity to show support for this terrible disease. Mom is still trucking along despite some crappy MRI results… It’s all the love that she feels from others that I’m sure is keeping her going
Heather is still enjoying her job and beginning to really get into the groove of making Portland life work. Getting a car she can drive has surely helped that. She just completed a rock star weekend around the house. The place looks great. Her Mom also paid us a short visit while she was on this coast and did some fun stuff for the house (made some curtains, pillowcases, and painted our front door TEAL) while enjoying never-ending culinary delights; Heather had to work so we’d meet her for breakfast and lunch many days. She also found her Mecca in Powell’s Books. Oh, and while still in the Heather paragraph, she has started her own blog. I think it is private, but she’s doing a pretty good job at it. If you’d like access, shoot her an e-mail.
I’m still working from home 4 days a week and trying to get out at least one. I’ve been making time to get out to group rides at lunch on Mondays and Thursdays (weather pending, which means at most once a week). I’ve also found a great board game group and snuggled in with some friends of friends. Dare I say life is a little bit easier with fewer friends and events to constantly attend? I feel awkward saying so, but it really is so much easier to get our own stuff done with so many fewer obligations. We could use more friends, for sure, but… Alright, I don’t know how to continue on with this without sounding like an antisocial asshole. Work itself has continued to go well. I’ve gotten the hang of started my days at 6:30am now. I have yet to get in the hang of ending them at the appropriate time, but I’m sure my boss isn’t complaining about my 10 hour days. Unfortunately, my productivity hasn’t really risen due to some technical issues inside the office that I’ve been trying to resolve for months. Pro tip: You can’t double the size of your team without doubling the size of their resources… But I digress.
My athletics are starting to get going again. I missed “base” season where you build up your body for the coming pounding so I’m playing a bit of catch-up. I missed it due to our living situation, mainly. I could have run, but my knee had been acting up for a few months. All is now resolved (minus a back/neck/shoulder issue that has been plaguing me for months, but I’m working through that and seeing a chiro multiple times a week) and I’m getting back to shape, but it’ll all be for late-season stuff. Likely no road bike racing, probably no mountain bike racing, might focus on cross racing (would need a new bike), might be in great shape come summertime for running races, and maybe get a tri or two under my belt if I can get to the pool at all. I’m having trouble getting to race weight (drop 10 pounds) with all the amazing food and beer here, but I’m not giving up eating so it may simply be time to adjust the definition of “race weight” I’ve created a new album on Facebook for photos taken while riding or running so check that scenery out.
Despite being as busy as ever, I’ve found Portland to be a great place to read. If I find myself with fifteen minutes and nothing to do, I’ll break out a book (digitally). A rough estimate says I’m reading twice as much here, which is fairly significant since I already read about 6k pages per year. I’ve mostly been blowing through the “last” two Game of Thrones books. I love them, but they’ve defined my reading over the past two years so it’ll be nice to be done [until the next one comes out] and onto other things.
We’ve been keeping up with our movie watching and the end of our Netflix queue is in sight, but we probably won’t get there this year. There were a ton of great movies that just came out so they set our queue back a bit. 12 Years a Slave was likely my favorite of the bunch. American Hustle was fun too. Oh, I was in a movie too. Remember? Well, it came out. I’ve grabbed video of the full scene and put it on Vimeo. The password is “mikey”. I also got stills of every spot I can been seen.
Aside from movies, the only other constants are beer, wine, and food. We had a great beer winter and I’m still trying to figure out how to adapt to spring beer in the Northwest. We became members of an amazing nearby winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards, so we look forward to getting two bottles from them every quarter and introducing friends to their wines. We discovered a tasting room coming back from test driving the car, sampled about 15 wines, loved many, and liked them all. Joining up was a no-brainer. The food here continues to amaze and having a properly sized kitchen and dishwasher has gotten us cooking more. We’ve found that we can both prepare a piece of a meal and it is done with half the effort. Very cool finding. We also just discovered our local farmers market down the street. We walked over for the first time this past weekend and picked up some basics as well as some fresh salmon and halibut, which we made back to back nights. Both pretty amazing.
We’re still loving it here. The city has so much to offer, the weather is good and only going to get better, the scenery is unbelievable, the people are friendly, and I’m pretty sure there are jobs… Everyone needs to move here now. Not joking. If my words aren’t enough to convince you, how about this? Stop making excuses and break free from the chains that are Northern VA. DO IT.
I think that’s it for now. I apologize for the lack of updates. If you’re on Facebook, you know I’m still up to a lot of stuff and posting cool links and awesome photos nearly every day. It has kind of redefined the purpose of this blog, I suppose. So… stay tuned to both, and thanks for reading.
If you’re on the great FB, you know this. THE DREAM IS OURS!
Last week, we closed on our “new” home. It was built in 1915 so we’re very excited to be able to hold its centennial celebration next year (look for an Evite soon!). We’re now located in what’s called the Hollywood District of Portland. We weren’t too familiar with the area prior to finding this home because there are great schools in the vicinity, and that had been an indicator of being out of our price range. We did end up paying a tiny bit more than we wanted (our budget was set by ourselves to be artificially low so we’d be able to enjoy life… I’ll just have to drink a bit less beer now, which is difficult considering there are more breweries in this town than any other in the world), but the trick [by the selling agent] was that the home was listed at far below value. We looked, got hooked, and rode the wave upward. We still got a heck of a deal as the home appraised at a car’s worth more than what we paid; when we share that info with local real estate, mortgage, and title people, they’re shocked to hear that as usually it is only less or maybe $1-2k more. So… instant equity. Not a bad way to start. I’ll likely do a full write-up on home buying sometime soon, but for now I’ll talk about home itself.
The listing says it is three bedrooms, one bath, and 2300 square feet. One of those is true. One bath. The third bedroom is a finished attic space that we’ll likely use as a bedroom someday, but it really isn’t one. For now, I’m using it as my office and we’ll call it our hobby/secondary TV room. The square footage counts a massive unfinished basement, which features an existing workbench that I’ve already setup for use, tons of boxes, and a barely functional washer/dryer combo… More on those below. The size is almost too big for us now, but we’ve never had too much space so it’s a welcome predicament. It’ll be perfectly sized with a single kid, and if we go for two, we may need to look at finishing the basement as my office would likely get pushed out of the attic. We could dormer the attic, but we’d need another bathroom and the basement is much easier for that.
The house has amazing hardwoods and Craftsman-style detail preserved throughout. It’s really a place you walk into and say “Wow, that’s nice.” We love the charm… and we have already setup the guest bedroom so we hope you come soon to love it too
A 99 year old home is a handful. Ours is far better off than most we’ve seen, but over the past week we’ve been going pretty much nonstop between moving, unpacking, and repairs. I can’t speak for Heather (she has been just as busy as me, especially since she started a new job the day after we moved in) as I don’t have her to-do list in front of me, but here’s a glimpse at mine:
Day 3 [after moving boxes for two days]
Day 4 [after moving a cargo van of our remaining items out of storage]
Day 5 [Super Bowl... take it easy]
And I also work full-time…
My to-do list is shrinking, which is awesome. There’s still plenty to do, but the low hanging fruit has mostly been picked and the house is feeling much more comfortable for it.
Up next, we have our chimneys being repaired. This is being paid for by the seller via closing costs, but we opted to have a fancy cable-operated cap/damper installed since the house doesn’t have any sort of protection at the top already so there will be a few bucks out of our pockets. Our main chimney will be heavily repaired and our vent chimney will be removed from the roof up and replaced with a small pipe. We’re planning to do something creative with the removed bricks… Fire pit?
And then our roof needs to be replaced. Again, paid for by the seller as part of closing. We just need to get around to scheduling it and picking some shingles.
As far as work for us to do, I have a leaking washer to diagnose and repair (much more difficult than a dryer… maybe just replace?), install the utility sink when it arrives, install and repair some GFCI outlets, repair some regular outlets and switches, continue unpacking, and finally clean. Getting rid of all our boxes and materials will be a fun little mission too.
Long term, we don’t have much hot water despite having a relatively new water heater (only 40 gallons, but we’re definitely not getting that out of it since it is maxed on temp and we can’t get two showers back to back), the water line coming into our house is very restricted by corrosion so we’ll need to replace that and might as well schedule redoing all of our clean plumbing with flexible lines at the same time, and last but not least, the home’s electrical is rather dated so we’d like to do a full replacement of that eventually too.
In response to “How do you know how to do that stuff?” Google. There is answer for everything out there. Many of them come with videos. Supply a part or model number and explain your issue, and you’ll find an answer nine times out of ten. With a nice set of tools (not Chinese, store-brand, or off-brand) and some patience, anyone can save themselves a ton of money and fix nearly anything they own; homes, computers, cars, bicycles, etc. Very few repairs I’ve encountered require a learned skill or special tool. Sure, you can likely get them done 3x faster with proper experience, but that’s for you to decide… Do you feel like a challenge? Is the item you’re going to work on even worth your time? Is it worth someone else’s time? With practice, the bar of what you can do and how fast is constantly improved, your wallet is made heavier, and your wife will give you more thanks.
Yes, I realized I have been all “man,” and “husband” in this post. This is my blog, I’m a man, and my experience is that most of the above is stuff that men do. SEXISM! No, just an observation. Women can be handy and I think it is awesome and sexy when they are. Heather is eager to watch me get my hands dirty in order to learn and isn’t afraid to get hers nasty too, but… I’ve digressed like I like to do so back to the subject at hand.
We’re loving the house and the neighborhood. It is really starting to feel like home. We’ve met a few neighbors so far and they’re all incredibly friendly, and one even came over and helped us carry a heavy load! You don’t see that in NoVA! The little things are slowing down and we’ve been able to start to get back to living after only a week. I can’t wait for more of it all.
WARNING: Only attempt this with a laptop that has an SSD. If you do not know what SSD means or need to check a manufacturer’s website to find if you have one, read no further.
There are certain things that nag many Mac users that seem like simple fixes, but Apple never seems to address them. For me, that’s using an external monitor with a MacBook.
Yes, you can use clamshell mode. You hook up your monitor and then close your laptop. That’s a nice and clean solution EXCEPT that it causes your wireless throughput to cut in half. Such is life with a unibody metal design. When you close it, signals have a heck of a time getting in and out.
Yes, you could dim the display until it turns off. Unfortunately, that’s not actually off and you’ll lose your mouse from time to time when it wanders over into no man’s land. Good luck getting it back without looking like you’re having a seizure at your desk.
The best solution that I’ve found? A magnet. Get a small and low powered magnet. Somewhere on your machine (it seems Apple has been putting it near the audio jack lately), and with a certain polarity (you may need to swipe around and/or flip the magnet over, you’ll get the laptop to think you have closed it. The screen will turn off, you’ll still have full wireless signal, and you’ll be able to leave it open and not worry about losing your mouse. In order to turn the screen back on, open and close the laptop, or flip the magnet over and the “open” magnet should trigger somewhere around the same place as the closing one. You do not need to leave the magnet sitting on the device. Once you trick it, you can put the magnet away.
Why the warning? Oh, only because magnets and computers do not mix. With a machine that is entirely solid-state (I have a MacBook Air), you’re fine, but you really do not want a magnet anywhere near a traditional spinning hard drive because “OOPS!” there goes your data.
I’d heard of the subject before, vaguely knew some things about it, thought it was the type of testing I had naturally evolved to, and vowed to really find out by reading Exploratory Software Testing by James A. Whittaker.
As it turns out, my weak understanding was mostly wrong. The entire strategy is based upon testing “tour” metaphors that can be visualized by thinking of yourself as a person “touring” in a new city. That new city being your code. What I did understand and agree with fully in both mind and practice is the idea that strict adherence to a detailed test case or test plan is not efficient, not enjoyable, and metaphorically speaking, not the best way to see town. Instead, write test cases that are more of a general guide and do your own exploration in order to introduce variance with each run. The tour metaphor is ever-expanding and will be different for each team and each feature. The author presented his list of favorite tours, which can conveniently be found on MSDN (the author used to [maybe still does?] work at Microsoft and most of this book was MS-centric).
My takeaways (as usual, personal comments and clarifications in italics):
EPIC DIGRESSION: I’ve never had luck outsourcing testing to India and this is the reason why. The workers there are not encouraged to think, and instead treated and expected to function as worker bees. Follow instructions to a tee, don’t raise your hand, put in your hours, and get paid. I was involved early in outsourcing and several stories from colleagues lead me to believe it has changed for the better, but it was so bad for me that I still have that filthy taste in my mouth and would never proactively attempt to implement Asian testing for my team until I saw it work first-hand somewhere. At a recent QA Meetup, a colleague at Symantec actually mentioned they have it working really well there. It involved A LOT of effort from both sides of the ocean. I think that was what we missed in the early days. We assumed we could just drop things on these people and they’d get it done. Outsourcing with European countries now, I don’t know if it is just the individuals or the culture that matters, but we get amazing work from a group that considers themselves part of our team, company, and culture. It is a relationship that has been cultivated over many years and the fruit it bears is wonderful.
Despite my plentiful notes, I didn’t really care for this book. I feel it could have been summarized in 40 pages or so. The touring metaphor is a great one that I’ll keep handy in my tool belt, but the book had a number of user stories (don’t think Agile) from using the tours that didn’t really add anything, there was a good amount of general testing knowledge that is always a nice reminder, but better suited for a different book, and it finished with this wildly optimistic/futuristic section on the future of testing that had nothing at all to do with the subject I cared about reading. I had a fair amount of difficulty getting through this one, but I’m glad I did because ultimately it will make me better at what I do.
2 out of 5. Too much noise.
My other QA book reviews:
Another good one in the books. Facebook has a decent version of my year, which contains pictures (think: fun).
Goals. I set them a bit differently this time around and despite a few setbacks, all went pretty well. Less pressure to get things done, but I still managed to do better. Green = accomplished, orange = unobtainable, red = failed.
Ever have one of those door-to-door cable (I know, it’s not cable, it’s fiber) salesmen come to your door hoping to change your provider? This happened to me three months prior to moving across the country.
I dismissed the salesman originally by telling him I was about to move and the savings would have to be huge to warrant the effort of switching from Comcast to Verizon. He showed me some numbers and the savings simply weren’t there. He walked away.
Five minutes later, he came walking back. He had called up the chain, found a way to save me money, and was ready to show me the new plan. It was a good deal and worth the effort to make the switch for the three month period.
Throughout this process, it was made abundantly clear that I was moving very soon (he was inside our house and we had already started packing boxes). He assured me multiple times that because I was moving to Portland, OR and Verizon does not serve the area, that I would be able to close my account without any recourse. We went so far as to actually confirm this lack of coverage on his phone. My wife was witness to this conversation; I’m not imagining things.
He left, we switched over, and were very happy saving $30 a month for what we considered to be a better service.
Three months later, we pack up, close the account, and make the move.
We receive our final bill, and sure enough, there’s a $210 early termination fee. $10 per month not served on our two-year contract.
I immediately contact Verizon support. They treat me like a piece of meat and spit me out saying that the fee is mentioned in the contract and I’ll have to pay it. I explain that a verbal agreement is a contract too. They disagree. I ask if it is common for them to not honor the words of their salesmen, and they more or less ignore the question. Infuriated at the lack of customer “service,” I end communication.
And then I traveled a month or so, ignored the issue, and hoped that someone from their billing department would take a second look and waive the fee. Nope. I continue receiving bills.
At the end of my travel, I take to Twitter to share my story. I am contacted by Verizon’s social media support team. I’ve dealt with such support groups when I’ve been vocal on other issues with other businesses so I’m left very hopeful. They’re pleasant, seem to listen to my case, and send it it up the chain. A day later, they receive word that there is no notice of a waive of the fee noted on my account. So apparently this is something that could have been noted when I originally signed up, but the salesman neglected to make it happen? Not only did he fail to do that, but he first lied to me about it being a policy of not charging a fee when you move out of coverage. Double whammy of failure and lies.
So I paid the amount. This $210 fee, which cost them $0 will end up costing them a vocal supporter (I was an early adopter of FiOS and have always loved it) and future customer. They care not. They got their money and the case is closed.
What recourse or protections do we have as consumers anymore? The big companies want money at no cost and there’s nobody to protect us. I’ve filed my case with the FTC (should I do the same with the FCC?), but I’ll never see anything come of that. Had I stood my ground, which was the right ground to stand on, I’d have had my credit wrecked.
I wish I had an answer. All I’ve got is this blog.
Update: January 17, 2014 — Following a series of snafus with my bank (they froze my account after I sent a bill-pay to my landlord for rent and I was unable to get it unfrozen for a matter of weeks [I can't run away from E*Trade fast enough, either, but I digress]), it turns out my payment did not go through. Verizon has since sent us to collections and added another $30 fee. Before receiving notice of this, my wife went in and paid the original amount again, but now I’m sure we get to deal with this extra $30 too since it was en route to us. Anyway, I’m fully fed up with the lack of service we’ve received on this and have notified Verizon of my intent to file with small claims court.
A book review? Yeah, sure, kinda. I tend to highlight the crap out of professional books that I read. I rarely go back and look at the highlights so this exercise is as much for me as it is for you.
Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Not yet released. This is the one you want. My only complaint about the 2nd edition, which I read, is that it is awfully dated (I think he uses Netscape in an example or two). If you want to buy, use that link so I get a kickback. I’m not shy about referrals.
Good read. Short enough that it can comfortably consumed on a flight across the country (I did it in two because Candy Crush has got my attention).
Anyway, my takeaways (personal comments or clarification in italics):