Jason's Bloglet

Digging's almost done. Another day to even out the trench that the first row of stones goes into--and one electrical wire moved--and I'll be ready to start construction of the wall. Ugh, I'm tired all the time.

I got an iPhone. It was an interesting time. I had a lot of work to do on my retaining wall on Friday, but I really didn't want to do it. I made a deal with myself--I'd go LOOK at the phone if I got the plumbing done by 6pm that day. I got the plumbing done, so I went to my AT&T store nearby.

80 people in line outside of the store, so I just kept driving. I went to my girlfriend's house and picked her up, we had dinner. We went back to the AT&T store, and there was no line, we went in and they were out of phones. We looked at a display phone, pretty neat, but nothing great while there at the store.

We went back to her place and I looked up the phone online and saw that the interface was pretty cool. The picture interface especially. So I called up the local apple store at 8:45 and asked if they had any phones left. They said, "yeah, we have some. A few. Maybe quite a few." I asked how much of a line they had. They said, "no line left, it's pretty much died down." So I went down to the store and, at 9:30, walked up to the counter with no line and bought one of the 80 or so phones that were left. Piece of cake. I had it working :45 minutes later.

So far, the phone is awesome. The camera could be better--it's not replacing my digital camera, at least not yet. I would have liked voice activated dialing. And I wish that the Safari "large" landscape keyboard was available everywhere on the phone. The web could be faster but it's still useful for settling arguments and looking up various things. Other than those little problems, the thing is just so amazing that I can't even begin to say. The web is much faster than I expected, in fact. The Google Maps feature is awesome. The picture interface is amazing. The iPod is the best ever. The phone's reception is better than any I've ever had. The interface is beautiful. I was saying for the first few days "this is the first phone that actually works well," but that's not giving it enough credit because the iPod is the best ever, especially for video, and the internet is there, and more and more of it is useful...it's great. Simply great. _
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03:44:18 PM, Thursday 12 July 2007


I guess it's the work. Or the drinking. I drink a lot. Mostly water, though, so I doubt that it's the drinking. Ah, well, whatever--it's been 18 days since I posted, and I've done a lot of digging.

Mostly, though, it's been other people. And we're almost done. But it's hard to post pictures here. I'm thinking about moving to another blogger, but then it won't get tracked by Moss's blogtracker, which is sad.

Anyway, This is pretty funny, so I'm going to post it to a photo site and then link to it. It turns out that excavating is more work than I thought. We did 9 hours of work and only made a dent. I asked 4 people to come back the next day for a half day, and they did. Then I asked the four to come back on Friday, they didn't make it, so they came on Saturday and stayed for the whole day. Then they came back on Sunday for a half a day. Then the next Saturday for a full day with an extra person. Then Sunday for a half day. Then last Saturday for a half day. Now today for a half day just to remove debris. Let's see....

day people hours day's hours total hours
Sat. 10 8 80 80
Sun. 5 4 20 100
Sat. 5 8 40 140
Sun. 4 4 16 156
Sat. 6 8 48 204
Sat. 4 4 16 220
Sun. 1 3 3 223
today 2 3 6 229

And I'm still not quite ready for the gravel and stone, there's about 40' of trench to dig still.

Now for the fun part: One of those days in there I decided things weren't going as fast as I'd like. Well, I rented a little bobcat like truck, with a big loader-shovel on the front and a little excavator on the back. Here's a picture:

It worked really well. I started on one side and it really dug for us. It leveled off a large portion of the ground, and cut back into the lower hillside for us. Wow. It did a lot of work.

And then the hillside broke it! The clay was so heavy, the roots of the oak tree were so strong, that it sheared a 1.5" steel axle on the excavator! Unbelievable! I had to call the rental company and have them come pick up their broken machine. Thank goodness I wasn't doing anything wrong with it, they didn't charge me at all.

And then, the day that I worked on my own, last sunday, I was using a tiller to dig the trench for the first row of stones, and the hillside broke a tooth of off the tiller within an hour. Then it broke another tooth off within the second hour. By the end of the third hour, it stripped the gears and the tiller was worthless.

This "soil" is mostly clay filled with rocks. It's a killer to dig in. I've got a new, heavier-duty tiller coming on Monday, and I have 2 weeks of vacation. I'm hoping to be mostly done with the retaining wall by the end of the vacation, but it will likely take more time than I think it will to replace the pool lines and move the electric box to a new location...plus I still have to order the wall blocks and gravel!
11:13:11 AM, Friday 22 June 2007


Lots of work done over the weekend, much more left to do. It turns out that 9 people working 8 hours wasn't nearly enough time, I need at least another day like that one and possibly two to get the excavation done.

I'm going on travel so no pictures or posts until Friday. _
10:55:06 AM, Tuesday 29 May 2007


I dunno...I'm thinking of selling my nifty car and getting a Smart. I've never bought a new car, watching the car's depreciation is terrible...but there won't be any used Smarts around for a while, I'm thinking. Plus it's actually a very roomy car...take a look at the "Smart TV" section and look at the video called "Roomy" to see what I mean...

Still, it's a bit odd and I don't know how quiet it will be on the road. I like a quiet car... _
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04:11:18 PM, Thursday 24 May 2007


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04:10:59 PM, Thursday 24 May 2007


Work begins in earnest on Saturday. I hired 6-10 people (depending on how many bring friends) at $15/hour from Craig's List's "Gigs" section to help me dig. I'll have to buy a few shovels and a few picks, but at $10-15 each that's not too bad. I'm hoping to get the retaining walls removed and some of the digging done, as well as cutting down and cleaning up all of the plants that I want to have gone, and transplanting all of the azaleas to another part of the yard.

I got the fish tank about two weeks ago. I haven't taken pictures of it yet, but it's ... large. I had ordered an acrylic tank, but they delivered a glass one. I took the tank anyway as the next delivery possible was scheduled for two months from now, and they refunded the difference in price. I'll try to remember to take pictures of the tank and post them here tonight. Glass tanks are heavy, and this glass tank was, most likely, the heaviest thing I've ever moved by myself...it must weigh 400 pounds or more. The stand that it's on weighs much less than the tank, and the stand is much larger than the tank and made primarily out of plywood.

I will definitely be taking pictures of the digging for the retaining wall...I finally found a good block. It's a good bargain, it really looks like cut stone, and costs only as much as natural stone, and it's a concrete product. Plus the dealer is only a few miles from my place, so it won't be too expensive to deliver. Pictures of that will come as I get the stone ordered and such. I want to wait until the digging is done so that I don't order too much, it's expensive enough that I don't want to screw up and have a pallet of stone left. _
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11:22:26 AM, Thursday 24 May 2007


I keep looking and looking and looking and the retaining wall "systems" out there are all kind of ugly. I mean, they look like broken up pieces of colored cinder block concrete. Ugly. Some do better jobs than others at disguising the concrete, but if you get close up, they all look like cinder blocks that have been broken.

I thought that I had found a good product, Stone Gate Country Manor by Keystone, but I asked for a sample and it looks like cinder blocks instead of broken cinder blocks. The next best thing is Anchor Highland Stone by Anchor Wall Systems. You can really see what I mean in that side picture on the left, if you look very closely--it looks like the front of the block is simply a carefully broken piece of concrete...which is, in fact, what it is.

The only real solution to this is to build a wall out of natural stone. It's about twice as expensive for the raw materials, but I think it looks better, and the installation is a bit easier. A local dealer has it, and the delivery charge is MUCH less than I thought it would be, around $260 to deliver 16 tons of stone. Eagle Ridge Wall Stone is what I think I'll go with. There's a decent picture on here, the second row in my browser, the convex-curved greyish colored wall with different sizes of stones. What do y'all think? _
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02:44:56 PM, Tuesday 15 May 2007


So...a while ago I got a little (2.5 gallon) fish tank. I thought the cats would like it. The cats didn't notice, I think the fishies are too small. :(

there's this thing called "Stumbleupon". It's a website and a tool that you can install into your browser. I downloaded it and installed it. I told it what I liked and clicked the "Stumble" button a couple of times, and came across a site about Nano Reef fish tanks. They were these pretty little things, around 20 gallons, that had plants and fish and corals and shrimps and crabs and such in them. Very neat. I started researching them...apparently, they're very hard to keep, the water quality can change very rapidly in a small tank.

I thought to myself, "Well, if there are NANO reef tanks, then there must be normal sized reef tanks." I looked around, and I was right. Neat stuff. Very pretty, fairly large fish. (Some of them can get to the 18" size, like Batfish.)

Anyway, to put all of this together, I've started getting the stuff necessary for a reef aquarium. I've got a 125 gallon tank on order, and a stand for it, and a light that is sufficient for growing corals (they get most of their food from a symbiotic Zooxanthellae algae, which require bright light to live)...

So, I got this stuff with the thought that I can set up the empty tank and let it sit there, waiting to be stocked, sitting in the living room where I'll see it every day...and I won't stock it, I won't even fill it with water, until the retaining wall is complete. And the patios. AND the new lawns. I'll take pictures of everything as I do it, including the fish tank, and post it here. I hope it'll be somewhat interesting... _
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02:06:18 PM, Friday 4 May 2007


Well, I've decided on the blocks I'm going to use, I think. They're smooth-sided, unlike most of the concrete block retaining walls. Here's the website.

Problem is, the availability of these is limited, and I'll have to have them shipped from Ohio or some such place. How much will it cost to have 4,500 pounds of stone shipped from Ohio?

On the plus side, I did go running this morning. I wasn't able to go far, I stopped at the first sign of an ache in my knee, so I got a total of about 1.8 miles. I think I need to strengthen my hips more, so that's what I'll be doing tonight... _
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09:44:05 AM, Monday 30 April 2007


Well, here are pictures of the retaining wall. Finally.

The dirt is falling out at the corner:

The next corner has some damage, but isn't too bad. Note how the walls lean inwards:

The last corner has had a couple of boards slide out from behind the vertical supports:

So, you can see, I need to replace the retaining wall. It's too bad, because all of the azaleas, which are in full bloom in these photos, are like spring greeting me whenever I look out of the windows... _
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10:14:05 AM, Monday 23 April 2007


I've got a ton of work to do around the house. Literally. Well, okay, I have more than six tons of work to do at the house, I'll try and take pictures of what area I'm going to renovate in the backyard so that you can all see the tons of work get done.

You see, I've got this shoddy wooden retaining wall. It's falling over, so I have to replace it. I figure that if I'm going to replace it, I'm going to do it right--it'll be stone. Well, the initial calculations say that I'm going to need 300 stones or so, and each one weighs about 25 pounds. 25X300=6,500lbs. That's a bit over three tons. Well, I have to have about 3 tons of gravel behind the stones for drainage. Finally, I'll have to move all of the dirt, too, which is tons and tons of dirt, I have no idea how much.

So....anybody wanna help me dig? :) _
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03:11:22 PM, Wednesday 18 April 2007


Here is what you do if you want a cat. First, borrow someone else's cat. Second, plant the cat properly:

Third, wait for the cat to bud, take a clipping, and allow that to grow into your new housepet.

That planted cat is Astro, one of my girlfriend's cats. Very cute, but very shy. _
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09:52:59 AM, Monday 2 April 2007


I went to New Orleans this week for a business trip. Of course, I never get time to see the sights on a business trip, I have dinner with the group and am too tired to go out at 8:30 or 9pm when the dinner is over, but Downtown was in pretty good shape. So was the Garden District and Uptown. Of course, these districts didn't get much flooding. There wasn't much traffic. Although rush hour was a bit cramped, it wasn't bad. There weren't as many people out at night as in, say, DC or LA. The good areas are definitely recovering...I wonder if that means anything. _
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08:00:10 AM, Thursday 8 March 2007


So, philosophically speaking, what can we say about kleenex? _
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11:14:30 AM, Friday 2 March 2007


I must be getting old...

Friday, I went to log in to one of my bank accounts, but I couldn't remember the account number! I finally got it after a few hours of doing other things, it came back to me. I went to log in this morning and I couldn't remember the account number again! I had to re-memorize it, I had swapped a number in my head and had to spend time thinking about it before I didn't have to think about it again.

Strange. I've never had the best memory, but this is like I lost a bit or something, I had to refresh the RAM after a cosmic particle flipped a bit... _
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09:33:55 AM, Monday 26 February 2007


I'm having odd feelings lately. I think they're good, but it seems strange to me. Here's an example:

I was going to go to bed early on Wednesday. I normally go to bed at around 10pm, but I was tired. Then I thought to myself, "I should run on my treadmill." Then I thought, "No, I'm tired, I should go to bed." Then, I asked myself the following question, which I found kinda strange:

"What would I do if I were the person I want to be, instead of the person that I am? What would an ideal me do?"

I then got up and ran for a little while, and then did yoga, and then went to bed. The next morning, I woke up early, and I was trying to go back to sleep, when the question came back: "What would an ideal me do?" And so I got up, ran a little bit, and did a little bit of yoga. Then I played the cello, and I cleaned the kitchen a little, then I played a bit of Wii golf. Normally, I only clean the kitchen a little in the morning. An extra half an hour of time let me do all of those things--running and yoga woke me up more so I did more things with the rest of my morning.

Is that strange? Or should I ask myself that question before I do anything? _
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10:10:58 AM, Friday 23 February 2007


I found this to be extremely amusing... _
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01:38:00 PM, Wednesday 21 February 2007


Heh. One party = 3 pounds gained. Interesting.

I know, it's "water weight" or whatever you want to call it. The problem is that I ate too much because I don't know how much to eat. For all that losign weight is very simple, it's still very difficult. _
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07:35:59 AM, Wednesday 21 February 2007


Y'know, weight loss, at least from an engineering perspective, is very simple: "calories in" must be less than "calories out". You can't beat the laws of thermodynamics.

However, there are some complications to the equations. First, "calories in" isn't really just how much you eat, but is affected by what you eat. Protein isn't as readily absorbed by the body as simple sugars, so there's a "conversion inefficiency" -- it takes a lot more calories to digest protein than sugar. One (probably untrustworthy, but close) website says it takes about 25 calories to digest 100 calories of protein, whereas it only takes about 10-15 calories to digest simple carbohydrates. So there's about a 10% benefit to eating protein--as long as you keep it lean and low in saturated fats.

Second, "calories out" is the sum of basal metabolic rate and exercise and keeping your body warm and everything else. It's interesting to note that basic metabolic rate is very large in comparison to how much you can burn in exercise--basic metabolic rate, or what it takes to keep you alive and the same weight that you are now, is somewhere around 10 calories per pound of body weight. You can increase that to between 14-15 calories if you exercise all day long, but most people exercise only enough to up caloric consumption by 1-2 calories per pound. Remember that a pound of muscle burns more calories than a pound of fat, too, so that can change this equation too--but only by a small amount, significantly less than the advantage to eating protein over carbohydrates.

So, in the end, my problem is that I'm addicted to sugar. I can't stop eating it. I continuously eat the easiest calories to digest, I eat too many of them, and I don't work hard enough to increase my calories out, so .... I stay overweight. There's a lot more to the way that the body absorbs sugar that I might talk about later, but I think that, like the basic engineering equation of "calories in" < "calories out", for me, it's simple: I need to stop eating all sugar.

Darnit. _
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10:05:16 AM, Friday 16 February 2007


I'm totally pissed off. I can't believe that Republicans allow themselves to be associated with people like Frank Gaffney, who say things like this. It is completely unbelievable to me that someone would think to use the US Constitution to try to stifle free speech!

How can any freedom-loving American associate him- or herself in any way with someone who says that congressmen who disagree with the president's war should be hanged!?

Of course, since Frank Gaffney wants to call any disagreement with the disastrous Iraq war treasonous, we'll have to kill a little less than 70% of the population of the US.

Well, perhaps "disastrous" is a strong term. But then again, it's probably worse than disastrous: we have created more anti-US terrorists with the war in Iraq. Let's say that there are only 50,000 Iraquis dead (and of course there may be many, many more), then there are only about 50,000 brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, or daughters who now have just cause to hate the US. This isn't a war against terrorism, it's a banner for terrorists to rally around, and I'm afraid that, in the long run, it will cost the United States dearly.

Oops! According to Frank Gaffney, I just committed treason! Better hang me now! _
04:37:25 PM, Wednesday 14 February 2007


So, that was very interesting! I'm glad that we seem to all care about the environment...but how much do we care? I've been eliminating my "carbon footprint" by donating to Carbonfund.org for well over a year now...why not try to do so yourself? http://www.carbonfund.org

Anybody know of other good environmental charities? _
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04:22:17 PM, Wednesday 14 February 2007


So, there's at least one other scientific theory that says global warming might not be entirely caused by humans -- read about it here -- this comes right after the global warming summit said that the evidence isn't deniable that humans are the source of global warming.

I don't know what to believe, actually. Those of us who are Johnnies know that science has been wrong before, to the point of stifling the correct theory in the hopes of saving the current theory (phlogiston, anyone?)...if the main theory of global warming is correct, then we're in real trouble, but if it's not, then modifying our behavior (possibly impossible anyway) isn't necessary.

Does this leave us with a sort of "Pascal's Wager" equation here? The consequences are so high that we clean up the Earth even if we're not sure: if we do it and the climatologists are right, we've saved life as we know it; if we clean up the Earth and tehy're wrong we still end up with a cleaner planet and that's good; whereas if we don't clean up the Earth and climatologists are right, it's the end of the world as we know it, and if we don't clean up the Earth and the climatologists are wrong then we end up with what we've already got, which is economic expansion and benefit to humans.

What do you think? _
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03:51:57 PM, Monday 12 February 2007


well, I've been out twice more and hit a bit more than 200 balls. Today I hit about 75, and after about 30-40 balls, I started to "get it"--my shots were no longer slicing, they were going straight and about 250 yards. Then I realized I wasn't diong my backswing far enough back, and that made me swing much harder but a bit wild, so I would slice and hook randomly. This is fun, partly because I'm making progress and don't expect anything. _
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07:15:14 PM, Sunday 4 February 2007


Well, I had a good weekend. It was nice and warm...52 degrees or so on Saturday. So I went out and hit some golf balls.

This is actually kind of funny, because I've always thought that golf was kind of a stupid game. A person hits a ball with a club, then walks after the ball, then hits the ball with a club again. Very silly. But, you see, it's one of the games that came with the Wii. The system comes with Wii Sports, which has Tennis, Bowling, Boxing, Baseball, and Golf. It has three mini-games for each sport to teach you how to play, and you can get medals in the mini-games by doing well. After I got several medals in the other mini-games, I tried the golf one just for fun.

First was the putting game, just like putt putt golf, but with gentle curves and no walls. It was pretty hard, I could only sink about half of my putts after a few tries. Then was the "chipping in" game, where you hit a ball from the fairway onto the green. This was interesting--the game counts up how many feet away from the cup you end up. You have to read the green so that you know how far and in what direction the ball rolls, hit the ball the right strength, and in the correct direction...I eventually got one into the cup from chipping it in. Fun. Then there was the Driving game, where you try to hit a target a long distance away.

The game was fun, and I got gold medals in two of the three (putting was just too hard...) But once I started playing the actual game of golf on the system, I was hooked. You can try and stretch your initial shots and reach good positions, but it gets you into trouble quickly if you miss. Wind is a factor. The different clubs do different things, like keep the ball low and out of the wind, or put the ball up in the air further, where wind can affect it, but then the ball doesn't roll too far when it does come down.

Well, I'm fairly good at video games, so after I could birdie most of the shots (that's pretty good, a birdie is one shot less than a pro is supposed to take on a hole) in a single round, I went out and got another golf game. Once I got fairly good at that, I figured it was time to get out and try hitting golf balls.

I was terrible, so I went out and got some books. The game is really tough, and really interesting because of it. Well, I suppose it's interesting because I think I could be good at something that is very difficult--it doesn't seem out of the range of possibilities. It wouldn't be fun otherwise! _
02:14:27 PM, Monday 29 January 2007


I had salmon cakes for lunch today. The NASA HQ building has a little cafe on the top floor. It used to be only for the "top dogs" in the building, but one good thing that O'Keefe did was to open the cafe up to anyone in the building.

Anyway, I'd never had salmon cakes before. There was a thick butter sauce and I'm a happy camper. Or happy lunch eater. Or whatever. _
01:58:24 PM, Friday 26 January 2007


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