Sunday, August 07, 2005

New backyard pictures

Concrete forms

Samba, our kitty, with the finished retaing walls
Just under 4' high at the far end...

More pictures

Deck update

My deck guy came out Friday night and took a look at the concrete forms. We made some updates, and also determined that there was not a very good way to lay out the support posts. The posts would have been right in the path So we changed the design to have one extremely long and large beam that will span the entire yard. This beam will be supported by two single posts on each end and will hold up the entire deck without any need for posts in the middle. This will create a vey open space underneath for the patio.

Here is a new 3D mockup:

Soccer tournament

Anna's soccer team has been playing in a tournament all weekend down in Woodburn. Spent all day down there yesterday. Friday night, they lost 0-1 when they should have won. But they one two of their three games on Saturday. Lost again 0-1 this morning and have one more game tonight. Hoping for a win! The outcome tonight will place the team and determine who they will be playing in the upcomming year.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Using SketchUp

Here's the 3D model of the backyard deck/patio/storage area so far:
The deck doesn't have railings or support beams yet, and I'm missing the windows and doors on the house except for one door. The retaining wall in back isn't there yet either.

Backyard planning

I met with another deck guy yesterday morning. Seemed pretty good, but I still liked the one from Tuesday night best. We'll see what I get for quotes from them.

Landscapers got the irrigation burried in the backyard yesterday and finished the retaining wall. The backyard is now mostly level. They've got a bit more digging out to do where the concrete is going to be poured, so they'll have some extra dirt. But I think they might need to bring in a bit of fill.

I spent a lot of the day looking into hot tubs and planning the final parts of the concrete design. Used SketchUp and started working on a 3D model.

I think I'm going to go with a Pacific Marquis hot tub. Possibly the Epic.

Considering sevearl Dimension One models as well, including the Diplomat.

Chris suggests going with Arctic, but I don't know if it is a good brand or not. The Frontier Legend SE does look pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Landscaping pictures

Ramp up to front of house along the side.

Playground area where grass will be

Picutres from back corner of lot looking up at house. Lots of blocks...

Concrete forms create a curved shape around the AC. A short retaining wall will be installed here with builtin lighting blocks.

Retaining wall isn't quite finished yet. One more row of block will be added on the left and more work needed on the right side. View taken from where the play structure will be.

Views of lower playground area and upper open area from deck.

Busy day

Whew... sure was a busy day. Had three different deck builders come out and meet with me. The first guy was total white trash, all of his front teeth we even missing. I don't think he really knows what he is doing. And his quote was so low, I don't think he could buy the materials for that price.

The second guy seemed to know what he was doing, and I liked him well enough. But after we were done, he told me about his $45 consultation charge. He never told me about that when I spoke on the phone and made an appointment. Paid him and sent him on his way. He's getting back to me with a quote.

I really liked the 3rd guy. He really seems to know what he's doing. Sounds like he has lots of experience building highend decks. Even had one in architectural digest. Not sure how expensive he'll be though. He's going to send pictures and an estimate. He didn't charge for his time and spent 1.5 hours with me, talking about patio design, hot tubs, and other things as well as deck design. I just hope he doesn't come back with a $20K or more proposal.

I took some pictures of the backyard progress today, but haven't downloaded them from the camera yet. Maybe I'll get to that later tonight.

Got busy again with my contract work. Several defects needed my immediate attention. Had to fit in work around all my landscaping/decking appointments. Bummer.

Becky worked today and completed billing. Nice to have that done. She also took care of shipping several things that needed to get sent off. She's only going to be working one day per week now except for the week she does billing. She'll then work an extra day. I'm going to move some of her tasks to Judy once Judy gets settled in and can take on additional work. Having Judy take care of the kids needs is most important for now.

Didn't make it to the DMV again. Really need to do that. On the 4th, my license will have been expired for 2 months. Argh! Maybe I can fit it in tomorrow.

Missed my soccer game tonight because I met with the deck guy for so long. Danya might not be too happy with me. But it let me spend some time with Julzy. Gotta go give her a bath now, she got absolutely filthy playing outside in the dirt when I was talking with the deck guy.

Phase I is basically done

So, I'm doing all this contract work for a company that has been hired by a company to build a web application for B2B interaction with that really big retailer that everyone knows, but I can't reveal. We've been working on it for almost a year now, and of course, the client has changed the requirements many, many times. Today was the deadline to finish Phase I, and I actually got all of my tasks done as well as all of my defects resolved. Yay! I think the rest of the team has only about 30 defects left to resolve, and many of those are data issues that the client needs to figure out and resolve. So, it looks like things are going to settle down a little and I won't be putting in nearly so many long days and weekends. Sounds good to me! :) At least until we get underway on Phase II...

Landscape project

I can't believe how quickly the backyard is starting to take shape. Its been only about 10 days and already the retaining walls are done, with the upper area cut out to fill the lower area. These guys work fast. Some of the forms for the concrete are now in place as well, but I had to tell the concrete guy to hold off on finishing it until I had some more details about the deck.

Over the weekend, I hired a landscape designer to come out and take a look and brainstorm with me. I figured it was worth a couple hundred bucks to try to find a solution to the deck problem I was having. I just couldn't figure out how the decks should be designed. It wasn't so much the decks themselves, but where the steps should go to access the patio level from the deck level. And where the support posts will go. It was money well spent since she came up with a brilliant plan. Her idea for where the steps should go really work well and also provide me with storage space underneath them.

But she also told me that I have to get a deck guy out to plan exactly where the steps will land before my concrete guys pour. So now I've lined up several deck guys to come out and give me estimates over the next couple days. The concrete guys want to pour on Saturday, so I hope I can get this all figured out by then.

So much to think about with this project. Retaining walls, patios, decks, dog run, playground, grassy areas, irrigation, lighting, sound, security cameras... I just know I'm going to forget something and regret it.

I never did take a before picture. Dangit. I should probably take a shot of the progress tomorrow. Maybe I can even post it here and figure out how to include pictures!

Favorite sites

OK, I know. What a cheezy title. But what the hey... I do have a few sites that I tend to visit every day or every couple days.

Gotta have my PPC news:

Gotta have my gadget news:

Gotta find the deals:

Actually, I haven't visited Woot in months. Today's IBM Intel Pentium Thinkpad with DVD notebook for $399 just plain sucked... Who would buy a Pentium anymore? Maybe for a linux server, but not a notebook!

By the way, here is my delicious home:

Don't laugh... I need to someday spend some time and organize all of my tags. There sure are some great links stored there. If I only had time...

Shared calendar for MythTV?

It became apparent today that we need some sort of shared family calendar. And I'm not talking about the paper kind on a wall. Both Rachele and I keep track of everything in our PocketPCs, synced to Outlook on our computers. Of course, I'd prefer to use something besides Outlook, but until I find a good substitute that syncs properly with my PPC, I'm stuck.

The problem is that Judy needs to know what is going on in the family. I need to know what days Rachele is working. She needs to know what appointments I have during the day. We all need to know when our soccer games are, when Nick goes to Taekwondo, when Anna has soccer practice, and when Julz goes to soccer tots. In order for Judy to be able to prepare appropriate dinners (like not a really big meal at 5PM when we have a game at 6PM), take kids to things, and so forth, she needs this information.

So today I was looking into ways to share our calendars. I certainly want to stay away from more Microsoft products, so an Exchange server is out of the picture. Ideally, when I get a MythTV backend up and running, there would be a plugin for it that would enable us to view our calendars on any TV or computer in the house. But I couldn't find any such plugin available.

So I started researching shared calendar solutions. Tons of stuff out there, and I barely touched the surface. Most of it just won't do what I want to do. But I did find some things of interest.

There is an application under development called Chandler. It uses a WebDAV server to store calendar data. They mention something called CalDAV. Need to look into this more. They also mention that Mozilla's Calendar and Sunbird products use WebDAV/CalDAV. Sunbird is a standalone calendaring app that goes along with Firefox and Thunderbird, while Calendar is a plugin for Firefox and Thunderbird. Both Chandler and Sunbird are a long way off from being useful to me. Sunbird doesn't even have syncing capabilities yet. But they certainly could prove to be an Outlook replacement down the road.

Chandler has some related products. First, there is Cosmo. It is a sharing server that is based on WebDAV, but is "smarter". Second is Scooby, a web front-end client application for a calendar server.

Now, the trick would be to develop a plugin for MythTV that would be a front-end client application that works with a Cosmo server. I googled for anything related to a calendar in MythTV, but came up with very little. Perhaps there is something out there and I just don't know about it. I think I'll post to one of the MythTV mailing lists and see if anyone has any thoughts.

We hired a Nanny

We hired a nanny. She started full time today. She's been working for us on an as needed basis for the last month. She's been coming over once a week to clean. We had her over on occation to watch the kids. But its been really sporadic.

Having her start full time just feels strange, but in a good way. She spent the day with the kids. They went up to the park to play and took the dogs with them. They seem to really enjoy having her around. She also managed to make homemade burritos for everyone for lunch. Anna came down to my office and took my "lunch order" on a post-it note! Then she made bannana bread. And for dinner she made homemade lasagna. Oh yeah, she also placed a grocery order on She planned a menu for the whole week. And she called several carpet cleaners to get some quotes. And when she left, the place was tidy and the kitchen was clean, the laundry was put away, and I was happy and felt less stressed than I normally do.

Even in just one day, I can see the positive effect this will have on all of our lives. The kids won't be bored as much. We're going to eat homemade meals and healthier instead of eating at fast food and/or restaurants 5 or 6 nights a week. Rachele and I will feel less stressed with household things and we'll be able to spend our free time with the kids instead of doing chores. There will be some structure added to the kids lives. With Rachele starting her new job, its really a good time for us to be doing this.

Pluto Home

Wow. This could be something great. These guys appear to have built exactly what I've been imagining. Using open source software, they have created an integrated home automation system that integrates many of the technologies that I have been planning to use. It uses MythTV for media and Asterisk for telephony and VoIP. It integrates proximity detection via bluetooth, security systems, lighting systems, whole house audio, media server, and so much more. You can even control everything from a Symbian Series 60 phone. Wow. And its free OSS! Wow wow.

MythTV links

I've been tracking MythTV developments for over a year now. If I could only find the time to build a MythTV backend out of all these spare computer parts and old rackmount servers I've got.

Main site:

Mailing list archives:

Documentation and information Wiki:

Time to blog

Well, I guess its time to try out a personal blog. Been meaning to for too long now. I've got too many thoughts to keep track of. Perhaps this is the tool I've been searching for. After trying many tools to keep track of websites, ideas, research, I still haven't found the perfect tool. Bookmarks haven't cut it for years now. is great, but I sometimes need to keep track of more than just a link with some keywords. Yahoo's Save to My Web might help, even though it is along the lines of but adds saving a copy of the current document. Dang, sometimes I find that just a plain old text file works best.

So here we go. Time to create my mind dump. Or rather, my MindUmp...