Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lyric of the Moment 20

"Since the day I met you /
And after all we've been through /
I'm a dick, I'm addicted to you /
I think you know that it's true /
I'd run a thousand miles to get you"

          ~ Simple Plan, Addicted

Not particularly deep, just like the aural word play in the third line.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Dad Confession 10

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My Dad, like many other Asian parents, sometimes has questionable etiquette when it comes to picking up his cell phone during certain social settings.  There must be something about Asian culture or being old where answering a ringing cell phone hunched over with an almost non-whispered, "Hello??" is equivalent to side-buttoning yo ass.

However, as I've gotten older and become a Dad myself, I've realized that one of the things I've most appreciated about my Dad was that he'd just about pick up the phone every time I would call.  Growing up, it never even occurred to me that he might be busy at work when I called his office number from the yes, land-line, simply because perhaps I was proud of myself for memorizing his work number and for the finger strength it took to dial a '9' on the rotary.  Even in recent years when I had to call his cell phone for whatever reason during the day and he would pick up in a hushed whisper, only after hanging up would it cross my mind that hm...he's one of the top executives at his company and so any meeting he'd be at is likely really important.  Then I'd get an image of him in a meeting with fellow executives hunched over almost under the table answering the phone.  "What a dork!  Don't pick up then," I'd think, but my sub-conscious knows that the story of my life is that my Dad always tried to make himself available to me.

I hope that I can always be available to my children even at the expense of "social etiquette" if necessary.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Breaking Lenten Fasts

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Well, that was fast.  Not only was it fast, but of the three Lenten commitments that were applicable today, I broke two of them and nearly broke the third.  Here's how it happened.

My company is going through the worst layoffs in recent memory and there are a few in my group that were affected. One of them is a good friend who also served as a mentor for me when I first started.  In order to say goodbye and maybe also boost morale, our whole department went out to lunch.  

My wife and I started a tradition last Lent where we gave up eating out and take the money from the "eating out" portion of our budget and donate it to a charitable organization.  For those of you who have ever tried to give up eating out, while it's definitely tough, we enjoy the defined nature of it (in terms of length of time), that it is easily quantifiable (if there's no budget, how do you know when you would have eaten out and how much you would have spent?), and that we get to exercise the discipline of living simply while being generous (not easy in Silicon Valley suburbia).  One unexpected thing from keeping this fast last year was how much we began to notice every restaurant, even the crappy ones.  We'd drive down the main street and be like, "Whoa, I didn't even know there was a restaurant there."

When I got the invitation to the goodbye lunch, I was torn.  I was well aware of my Lenten commitment of not eating out, but at the same time, I wanted to be able to say goodbye to my good friend and to be with my department.  There was also the possibility of the lunch being sponsored by the department which seemed like a reasonable loophole.  I suppose I could have just gone to the restaurant, but not ordered anything, but since I had a meeting before the lunch and I was going to be late arriving to the restaurant, it just seemed odd (yes, yes, #highexpectationschristian says "would you rather offend God or please man?").  Ultimately, I made peace with it reasoning that I would rather show solidarity with a friend than be legalistic, which I can be. I was gonna order something simple anyways. 

Rushing to the restaurant after having parked far away, I arrived just after a huge crowd.  I see some of my co-workers picking up their food at the front of the line so I walk over to them.  Not sure if we were being comped or if they had all ordered together or separate, I started asking them if I needed to get to the back of the line.  Just then, a co-worker standing next to me told me to order on his ticket and the cashier was asking me what I wanted.  Still adjusting to the setting (I get a bit overwhelmed when I drop into a huge crowd quickly), I was drawing a blank.  I hadn't seen a menu and didn't see one anywhere.  I sort of hemmed and hawed a bit when my supervisor who was also standing next to me piped in and said, "How about the house burger?"  Whew, that was basic and sounded great.  When asked what I wanted to drink, my auto-pilot kicked in seeing the nice micro-brew selection on tap.  Were we ordering pitchers of beer?  No, everyone ordered their own?  Okay, then I'll get a pint.

Shoot.  While giving up eating out was a family sacrifice for Lent, my personal sacrifice this year is giving up alcohol.  Alcohol has always been something I enjoyed and with what I like to think of as wholesome fun.  I was the Christian that didn't drink until he was 21 and once I became of age, I really enjoyed the social nature of it (in moderation) in addition to the exploration of various genres (currently a huge scotch fan).  Still, I had felt a tugging in my heart since last year to perhaps consider a fast so this Lent was my opportunity.

I remember my sacrifice right as I'm about to order a beer and at the last second, I veer off and simply ask for a glass of water.  The bartender, who already has a pint glass in his hand, gives me a funny look and swaps it for a plastic water cup.  "Phew," I think, "Almost blew that one."

I settle into the banter of the department and soon after, my order was ready.  I was hungry and it looked like a nice, solid burger.  The fixings were DIY and as I stood there pumping my ketchup, a wave of horror washed over me.

Shit.  Today is Friday.  I'm not supposed to eat meat. 

What do I do now?  My mind goes into damage control mode.  Do I take a stand for Jesus and say even if I have to look like a total idiot, I will waste this food to not break His commandments?  Or do I still eat it and depend on God's grace that His love for me is greater than a moment of human forgetfulness.  Since reading about food shortages in developing countries and what people eat in order to survive, I've tried to waste less food than I normally waste.  So in this case, the latter won out.

I feel slightly bad reporting that the burger was amazeballs.  Thinking back on this, there is probably a lot to unpack here with my heart condition as I carry out these Lenten commitments.  There are probably also issues of grace with myself for making mistakes and not believing that I am lovable and that God's mercy is greater than uh, accidentally ordered, rationalized-ly eaten burgers (and other worse-er things).  Still, I tend towards the legalistic side of following commitments and Church teaching acknowledging the importance of actually following them.  Sheesh, kind of a rough day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How To Build a Basic Picket Fence

In early December 2012, a storm knocked over about 40 feet of 50 year old fence between our house and the neighbor's.  The insurance estimate was about $500 for the shared cost so with a $500 deductible, it didn't make sense to go through insurance.  As a result, I worked out an agreement with the neighbors that in exchange for them covering all the supplies, I would build the fence.

I decided to build the just-as-basic-as-you-can-get six foot picket fence seeing as the old fence was basically a rustic version with thinner pickets and because I work in tech, not construction.  The new fence was literally going to be, drop the fence posts into the ground, cement them in, put 2x4's between the posts and nail or screw the pickets to the 2x4's.  That easy.  For the most part, if basic tools don't scare you.  If that's the fence you want to build, hopefully this should be fairly comprehensive.

These were the basic steps I took (materials/tools list with links at the bottom) starting with Day 1:
  1. String out mason's line to demarcate where the fence will stand
    • Since I had posts to mark the ends of my fence in place, I simply put in a nail 3/4 of the way in about 1-2 feet off the ground on one post, wrapped the line around the nail, pulled it taut to the other post, slipped the line level on, put in the nail where the line was level and wrapped the line around the nail.
    • It's handy if the mason's line is at the preferred height of the bottom 2x4 for the fence

  2. Mark where the posts should go in, about 8ft apart

  3. Using a post-hole digger (and digging bar, if it helps), dig a hole for each post about two feet deep; the holes can be fine tuned once all the holes are finished

  4. Once all the holes are dug, place the posts into each hole and determine the preferred height of the post; for posts that are too tall, dig some more and for posts that are too short, throw in some rocks or dirt you've dug up 
    • At this point, some tutorials suggest putting rocks at the bottom of the hole which give moisture a place to run off into, if that means anything to you
    • The precision of the height of the posts need only be as precise as you can visually stand

  5. Now that the posts are in and at the right height, use the post level to make sure the fence posts are level bracing the posts in place by screwing in extra wood on multiple sides
    • Make sure the posts are rotated so that they are square with the mason's line
    • I ended up using the pickets from the old fence (about five feet long) as the braces and ended up using three pickets per post, two in opposite directions and one perpendicular
    • Because the pickets were thin enough, I used the 1 1/4in screws to temporarily attach them to the post at a height that created a good angle which braced the other end against the ground
    • Theoretically, you could use the new pickets as the temporary braces if you don't have any extra wood lying around and don't mind mind a little more wear and tear on them and an extra screw hole
    • Once the braces are in, you can use a mallet, hammer, or your fist re-level the posts if anything shifted

  6. With the posts level, open a bag of concrete and begin pouring in the dry mix into the hole, about a quarter of the bag; add water, mix with a stick; repeat until entire bag is empty with appropriate amount of water or the hole is filled; repeat for each post
    • The amount of water doesn't have to be precise as extra water will be absorbed in the ground
    • The consistency of the cement should be thick and viscous, but if it's more watery, it will simply take longer to dry
    • Feel free to check the level and rotation of the posts as the cement is incrementally added; the more cement that is in the hole, the harder it is to re-level or re-orient
That's about all I could really do for day 1 as I had to wait for the cement to dry.  I also wasn't even comfortable measuring the distance between posts for cutting the 2x4's because of the potential for the posts to move while the cement was drying.  These were my steps for Day 2:
  1. Using the level mason's line at the height of the preferred height of the bottom 2x4 frame, mark the posts where the 2x4 should be, measure the distances between the posts, cut the 2x4 to size, and screw them to the posts using the 3in screws.
    • In general, one measurement to one side of the post should be fine, but for more precision work, both sides of the post could be measured to account for any post deformity
    • Screwing the 2x4 to the posts can actually be done with one person by using an extra, appropriately long 2x4, wedging it into the ground and up against the post at the right height on one side, fitting the cut 2x4 between the post, resting it on the propped 2x4, manually holding it up on the other side, and screwing it in
    • Screwing the 2x4 to the post means screwing the screw in at an angle
    • I screwed each side of the 2x4 to the post from the bottom and the top; for the top screw, I screwed at an angle closer to the side of the 2x4 the picket was going to be attached to in order to hide the head of the screw a bit more

  2. Once all the bottom 2x4's are in, reset the mason's line at the preferred height of the top 2x4s.  
    • Because one of my existing posts was much shorter, the height of my top post could be no taller than that shortest post - I was fine with the look of the posts standing a bit taller than the top 2x4

  3. Repeat step 1, installing the top 2x4's

  4. Now that the basic structure of the fence is in place, the pickets can be installed; choosing which side of the fence the pickets should be attached to, using the 1 1/4in screws, screw the pickets to the frame into the 2x4's; repeat until the pickets cover the length of the fence
    • For each picket, I used a standard level along the side of the picket to make sure the picket was vertically level
    • Depending on what kind of pickets are being used, one way to make sure the height of the fence stays uniform is to make sure the height from the top of the top 2x4 to the top of the picket stays the same
    • For each picket, I used two screws for the top 2x4 and two screws for the bottom 2x4
    • Screwing into the top 2x4 is pretty easy to eyeball, but the bottom 2x4 is more taxing because it is lower to the ground making it harder to eyeball screw into it; for slightly easier screwing for the bottom, a rafter square can be used against the side of the picket squared to the bottom 2x4 to easily see the correct line
    • Making sure each picket is completely flush with the previous picket was sort of a losing battle because cheaper pickets are not so precisely cut; the wood also expands and contracts with moisture so if more privacy is desire, overlap the pickets (but this means more of them)
    • Save the pickets that are more deformed or have knot holes in them for places where the imperfections can be more hidden (like towards the back of the yard if applicable)
It wasn't all smooth sailing for me as there were a couple issues I ran into:
  • There were posts on either end of the 40 ft negative space which meant I should have only needed four posts in-between. The post on the far side of the yard was pretty new and in good shape, but the post on the near side of the yard was pretty rotted through.  I didn't feel comfortable using it for load-bearing so I needed to figure out where to put another post.
  • This ended solving itself because as I measured out where to put the posts, I discovered that the cement bases of the previous posts were already there.  Not wanting to dig out the existing cement bases (because it seemed like a ton of work), I decided to offset the posts by a foot which allowed me to also place a new post about a foot away from the rotted one for extra support in that section of the fence.  This meant that there would be one section of 2x4's that would be a bit shorter and the trimmed pieces of wood were long enough to be further trimmed to fit between the old post and the new post about a foot away. 
  • I had a tree on my neighbor's property with branches that came onto ours at a height lower than the fence.  To solve this, I made a general measurement per picket that would allow the branch through and used a handsaw to cut out the appropriate pieces.  Ultimately, I only needed to cut a piece out of one picket and shorten another entire picket to make the appropriate opening for this branch.

Finally, here is a list of materials and tools I used for 40 feet of fence:
Hopefully the extra info is more helpful than not.  Good luck!