Posts belonging to Category Domestic Affairs

Electric Annoyance

I was glad to see in this article from today’s Star-Telegram that some of the electric providers are now offering plans that tie electric costs more closely to the cost of natural gas.  I’ve been increasingly annoyed at TXU’s high prices, which are based on unusually high post-Katrina gas costs.  Despite gas having gone down since then, TXU has continued to charge high rates.

In late December I did some research to see what kinds of competing plans were available.  There were some that had better rates ($0.11/kWh vs the standard rate of about $0.15/kWh that TXU charged).  Unfortunately, all of those plans required a long-term committment and an agreement to let them draft your checking account for payment.  I don’t like either of those requirements, but the direct-draft thing is a deal-killer for me.  I generally don’t let a company do direct billing unless it’s something that has a fixed cost and where I trust them enough not to suddenly send me a $10,000 bill and try to debit my account for it.  I certainly don’t trust TXU enough for that.

The good news is that these new plans don’t appear to require any long-term committment.  I’m going to have to do some more research to see if they still have direct-billing requirements, though.  But I like the idea of one that is more tied to the price of gas.  Not that I particularly like to have my bill increase, but at least I could understand it if the price of gas changes.  I just want a plan that also tracks the decreases.

Kitchen Selection Criteria

I was confronted by a bewildering array of models when searching for a coffee maker in the store today.  What finally pushed me to buy the one I brought home was that I found the user’s manual stuffed inside the display model.  I gave it a once-over to see what kind of cleaning ritual it would require.  This is a pet peeve of mine, in that so many things seem to require hand washing.  This one listed the carafe, lid, and brew basket as being top-rack dishwasher safe, which was what put it on top (despite a slew of units with more features and “cooler” form factors).  I don’t know whether the other units were dishwasher safe or not, as they don’t seem to list that feature anywhere on the packaging. 

This sort of thing has driven me to junk more than one kitchen appliance.  The best example of this would be the Mr. Coffee model TM50P Iced Tea Maker.  I was frustrated beyond belief by the cleanup involved with it.  The brew basket required hand washing and it was molded with a set of raised “fins” radiating from the center to the outside, leaving hundreds of little depressions that were impossible to get clean.  When I started looking for a replacement, I spent a lot of time researching units.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find any that were dishwasher safe, but I did find the Hamilton Beach 40911, which is much easier to clean (no obnoxious spider-web of fins to get tea gunk out of).  One of these days I’m going to take the Mr. Coffee to the range and give it the 12-ga therapy it so richly deserves…

Anyhow, I wish more manufacturers would be up-front and put it right on the box if the unit is dishwasher safe.  That’s a major selling point for me.

Update: As I mentioned in the comments, the new unit was having problems getting the water to siphon through the heater.  I thought I had it fixed, but after one pot it decided it didn’t want to flow anymore.  I finally ended up taking it back and getting a refund.  I did some research on this model on and came to the conclusion that I should have researched before going to the store.  The reviews were almost uniformly bad on this unit.

Bzzzzzzt Pop!

This is a bad thing:

What is it, you ask?  It’s the switch from my coffee maker.  When I turned it off this morning it threw a big spark from the switch.  It didn’t hurt, but it certainly surprised me.  The picture is actually a composite of two photos.  The left side is the switch base (with its contact point; notice the scorch mark)  and the right side is the part that moves to complete the circuit with the base’s contact point when you flip the switch. 

I’m not a coffee addict.  I can quit at any time.  wink  But just not tomorrow, so I went ahead and bought a new coffee maker this afternoon. 

Out of curiosity, I decided to take the old one apart to see why it was spitting sparks.  As best as I can tell, the contacts have gotten worn and some carbon has built up.  It’s a bit annoying, as you’d think a Krups coffee maker would last longer than two years.

Update:  That Mr. Coffee model linked above wasn’t worth the time I spent fiddling with it.  It wouldn’t siphon correctly, and I found what appeared to be a plastic molding remnant in the intake, which I removed.  It managed to make one pot of coffee after that, but then decided not to siphon anymore.  This caused it to just emit steam, which means that the coffee that got into the container was basically steamed, and had a consistency similar to light motor oil.  I took it back and I’m going to consider a different model.


One of the side-effects of working at home is that you quickly learn the habits of the various delivery drivers.  The UPS guy, in particular, is interesting to watch, as he usually runs from the truck, dumps the box at the door, hits the doorbell, and takes off at a run for the truck.  Unless he needs a signature, all that’s left of him by the time I get to the door is the rumble of his truck in the distance.

Today’s offender, though, is the DHL driver.  It’s really comforting to be informed that your new hard drives have been delivered by hearing the THUNK of the box as it hits the concrete in front of your door.

I wonder if they’d treat the boxes differently if they thought I was home?  I keep my truck in the garage, so unless I’m standing at the door or the lights are on people usually don’t know anyone’s home during the day.

Emergency Air Support

So I’m sitting there minding my business about 9:15 last night when I notice that it’s over 80 degrees inside the house and all the vents are blowing hot air.  I went outside to check on the condenser unit and it was making an awful racket so I shut it down.  When I went back I could smell a burning odor.  I suspect that it’s the fan motor, but I’m currently waiting for a callback from Airwise to try to schedule an appointment (I was sorely tempted to call one of the 24-hour places, but my home warranty requires that I go through the process).  In the meantime, expecting that it might take them a while to get back to me, I went to WalMart and bought a small window unit so that at least my bedroom would have some cooling.  I suspect things may get a bit warm later in the day in here, as the unit is probably a bit small for the size of the room, but my choices were limited to either the little unit (5150 BTU) or a 10,000 BTU unit for twice the cost.  The 10,000 unit seemed like overkill for a temporary solution.

I supposed I’ve kind of been expecting this, given that the unit is almost 20 years old (it’s the original one from when the house was built) and that it’s been running nearly continuously this summer because of the heat.  Eventually, something has to fail on a unit that’s that old. 

On the positive side of this is that if it requires a new unit my warranty covers a 13-SEER replacement, so perhaps I could get a more efficient unit out of the deal if it’s more than just the fan motor.  That old unit is pretty inefficient compared to the newer models, and I’m reminded of this fact monthly (to the tune of $520 on the last bill).

I suppose some people would have just put up with the heat, but it’s already unbearable in the rest of the house and it’s only 89 outside.  I remember growing up that we rarely ran the air conditioner.  However, we lived in an old house with high ceilings and good airflow.  We could keep the house bearable, even in 90-degree temperatures, with a large fan that drew air through the house.  More modern houses just aren’t designed to stay liveable without central heat and air.  I’ve found that even in early spring or late fall that there were times I had to run the air conditioning because I just couldn’t get good airflow through the house, even with all the windows open.  Like most houses in this neighborhood, it only has one window facing the front.  All of the others are on the sides and back.  I didn’t really notice this when I bought the house, but it’s something that I’m going to pay more attention to should I buy another house in the future.

Update:  Looks like I’m going to be “confined to quarters” for a while.  They can’t send anyone until Wednesday (!).  I guess the heat has been a real killer for North Texas AC units…

Painter’s Itch

The previous owners of the house left a hideous pink paint pattern in the kitchen/dining area:
Bad pink dining room thumb

They also had a pink theme going on in the living room:
pink living room thumb

I’m not sure whether they were simply colorblind or suffered from bad taste, but I couldn’t stand it and I was planning to eradicate all of it.  However, painting all that picture-frame molding trim was so tedious and time-consuming that I never wanted to touch another paintbrush again after the living room.  So I’d resigned myself to put up with the other rooms until such time as I recovered.  Now I’ve gotten fed up with looking at it.

I’m feeling the itch to paint again.  That, or I’m coming down with something…  If I actually pick a color, then we’ll know I’m serious.

Failure To Inform

I was lucky in that I caught this problem on my own.

About 10,000 area natural-gas customers thought their online payments were going through just fine.

Until the late notices began arriving in November.

While their payments were properly deducted from their bank accounts, they weren’t being credited in their names at Atmos Energy. So many called the customer-service line this week to get the matter straightened out that it caused further delays, customers said.

Blame the problem on the account changeover after Atmos acquired TXU Gas.

“The banks and payment processors were supposed to make the changes in account numbers so that online customers’ payments would go through smoothly, and in some cases, the changes weren’t made properly,” spokesman Rand LaVonn said.

Those affected should call or e-mail Atmos with their bank-account numbers. No late fee will be charged.

I think the thing that bothered me about it was that Atmos gave us absolutely no notice.  They tried to handle it themselves, and that’s good.  But they still should have told us what they were doing so we would know if something went wrong.  The only way I found out that the account number had changed was when I got the December bill and noticed that they hadn’t credited me for November, even though I knew I’d sent in the payment.  Suspecting that the change from TXU to Atmos had something to do with it I double-checked the account information that was stored in my online payment system against what was on the printed bill.  Sure enough, the billing address and account number had changed on the bill.

Even if a company intends to try to automate the account change, they MUST inform people that it’s happening.  It’s as simple as that.  They failed to do that, and now they’ve got a lot of people who are going to distrust them in the future.  If they’d been open about it, people would at least understand what was happening.

Herpetological Visitations

The first time this creature visited me, I was standing in the kitchen with the lights off and I saw something dart across the window from the corner of my eye.  At first I thought perhaps I’d been watching too many episodes of Ghost Hunters, but then it came back and I realized it was some sort of salamander. 

Now I’m used to it hanging out on my kitchen window or sometimes the bathroom window.  It shows up just about every night now.  As long as it remains outside, it’s a welcome visitor.  If it comes inside, all bets are off. 

( Yes, the outside of that window is dirty, although the 4x zoom and flash make it appear worse that it really is.  Anybody know a good window cleaning service?  ‘Cause I don’t do windows.  )

Welcome To Mission Control

I recently installed a webcam in my office so I could see outside without having to pull back the blinds and let in a lot of heat.  The only problem was that my new “window” was often hidden behind other applications.  So I grabbed another monitor and connected it to my PC.  It turns out to be pretty handy, since I can put the camera page and other things that I monitor, but don’t actively use all the time over there and get them out of the way.

However, I suspect I’ve probably crossed some geek boundary with all this hardware…


Home Theater Black Hole

As usual for me with any kind of home project, they always start simple and then turn into a long, drawn-out process…

I wanted to get a new stand for the TV in the bedroom so it would be high enough to be seen over the foot of the bed.  I also wanted to move it into a corner so that it wouldn’t be too close to the foot of the bed as I walked by.  The final impetus was when I rubbed up against it and the clip of a knife in my pocket scratched the wood of the footboard.

As I was looking at racks and stands it occurred to me that I had a bunch of leftover equipment that I wasn’t using.  Over the years I’d upgraded all the components in my home theater, to the point that I had a receiver, a set of speakers, and a VCR and DVD player.  So with this realization, the project went from “get the TV out of the way” to “put all this equipment to use and move the TV.” 

After looking at various catalogs and websites, I finally arrived at a suitable stand (in cherry).  But it occurred to me that there were going to be a lot of wires running out of this thing to the various speakers (five satellite speakers plus a subwoofer).  I didn’t want them laying on the floor or running under the carpet.  And I’d learned in the past that wires hung from the wall or the ceiling look like crap.  I’d previously used some self-adhesive wire-tracks, but I found that over time they’d eventually come unstuck.  So I found some on-wall nonmetallic raceway at Home Depot that screws into the wall. 

While these things look pretty good when they’re done, they’re a pain to put up.  You have to drill six holes for each 5-ft section, and put in the associated inserts and screws.  It took me over 5 hours to put up all the tracks and run most of the wire (I started around 7:30pm on Friday and had to stop round 1:00 am when I ran out of speaker wire, with only one speaker remaining). 

When I was all done, the setup looked good and sounded good.  There was just one problem:  the receiver and other components were below the foot of the bed, so their remotes wouldn’t work.  One more trip to Radio Shack (and there’s a rant involved there), and the problem was solved.

In the end I’m not sure if it was worth all the trouble and expense, but at least I’ve got a kick-ass system in the bedroom that can scare the dog (if you’ve experienced the THX “thing” at the beginning of the Star Wars: Episode IV DVD you’ll understand.).  cool grin