Sunday, August 20, 2006


A young man was walking the streets of Paris. Suddenly, he saw a Rottweiler attacking a young girl. He jumped on the dog, struggled with him, and strangled it. Both he and the girl escaped with minor scratches.

Immediately, excited journalists surrounded him and said: What is your name? All Paris will hear of you, and the headlines will be: A Parisian hero saved a little girl from a savage dog.

Said the man: I am not Parisian.

The journalists: OK, so all France will hear of you, and the headlines will be: A French hero saved a little girl from a savage dog.

The man: But I am not French.

Journalists: OK, so all Europe will hear of you, and the headlines will read: A European hero saved a little girl from a savage dog.

The man: But I am not from Europe.

Journalists: So where are you from?

The man: I am from Israel.

Journalists: OK, so all the world will hear of you, and the headlines in all of tomorrow's papers will read: Israeli killed a little girl's dog.

Friday, August 18, 2006


My wife is rather partial to visiting old graveyards, and I guess that I have picked up the habit. It sounds rather morbid, or at least Victorian-era sentimental (did I mention that my wife's specialty is Victorian British literature?), but it is often quite interesting what you find on gravestones. For example, you can tell something of the wealth of the family of the dearly departed by how elaborately carved the headstone was. Here's the stone of Josiah Soule, a distant relative who died sometime in the late 17th century in Duxbury, Massachusetts. (I could actually somewhat read the date when I visited there last year, but it is certainly not readable in this picture.) It is a rather powerful feeling to find yourself standing atop the graves of your first ancestors in America.

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A bit less than a century later, another relative of mine has a considerably nicer carving--and this is actually pretty typical of the Duxbury gravestones of that era.

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You will notice on both headstones there are weirdly extraterrestial looking faces. In the 17th century, Puritans often put skulls on headstones as a reminder, in the words of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard":
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour,
The paths of glory lead but to the grave”
Life (at least this life) is fleeting, and be prepared to meet your Maker. By the time of the Revolution, this depressing reminder is starting to give way to angels--which comes from the Greek word angelos for messenger--a reminder that while this life is fleeting, there is hope. See this 1774 headstone from the same graveyard. It's primitive art, but at least you can see the wings!

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Cruel humor sent by a reader:
Engineer #1: Implementing this Arabic stuff has caused me to learn the darnedest things. Did you know that "al-" is the root for alcohol?

Engineer #2: You mean like, "Al Jazeera?"

Engineer #1: Yeah, and "Al Qaida."

Engineer #3 (the boss): Or "Al Gore?"
I am reminded of something that happened to a co-worker some years ago. He went to the post office to pick up a package. He had a book in his hand that had the word "algorithms" in it. Another person standing in line looked at the title and asked, "Is that a book of the sayings of Al Gore?"
House Project: Enforcing Warranty Compliance

The builder sent an email asking to know when he could pick up the final check. We have been waiting for several months for the plumber to show up to tighten up the kitchen faucet and replace the broken hose bib handle. Amazingly enough, the morning after I told him the check would be available, "after all the warranty work has been finished," the plumber showed up, and did his tasks. (He also removed the very expensive Harmsco stainless steel lead filtration housing. We don't need it; we aren't using it; I'm hoping to find someone who doesn't want to pay $1100 for a new one.)

Anyway, all that is left is one cracked tile (not badly cracked, but still visible) and the screens that need to be redone in aluminum, so the grasshoppers don't continue eating them. With luck, this should be done by Monday.

Last house project entry.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

House Project: Concrete Color Fixed; Fiberglass Screens Being Eaten

After much struggle, the builder came up here with a representative from Brickform, the makers of the colored stamped concrete that we had done around the house. As regular readers will know, this was a disaster. The builder didn't put in drainage when we first discussed it, and some of the concrete on the rear garage apron cracked. When the concrete guys came in and re-poured it, it was the wrong color. Then they put on the finish that was supposed to be shiny and rose colored--and it didn't hide the gray concrete, and the finish was inconsistent and dark brown. At this point, we gave up getting the color the one that we had been promised--we would have been happy with a consistent color and finish.

Anyway, the first attempt to correct this problem didn't work so well, but by experimentation, the representative from Brickform and our builder found that a combination of the sealer (which makes it shiny and repel water) and xylene would dissolve the existing sealant layer, and produce a fairly consistent color and sheen. It still isn't quite what we had expected from looking at other work, but it's not too bad.

Here are a couple of pictures--and let me point out that we've tracked a bit of dirt across it, which hoses right off because of the finish.

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I mentioned a few months back that we had a problem with woodpeckers punching big holes in the screens on the south side of the house. We have noticed a gradually increasing problem with little holes in the screens mostly on the north side of the house, but a little bit everywhere. It turns out that the screen material is made of fiberglass--not metal. The builder was a little surprised by this, and suggested that we could rescreen them pretty easily. (Of course, he wasn't suggesting that he do it or pay for it.)

Had the problem been birds, I would have cringed at the cost of having it done, or the labor of doing it ourselves, but we finally caught a grasshopper eating the screen. What is the purpose of window screens? To keep out bugs. If the bugs can, and do, eat through the screens, they aren't performing their only function, are they? As far as I am concerned, this is a warranty issue.

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Of course, it might be easier to do just rescreen them ourselves. I bought some aluminum mesh at Home Depot, and two hours later, we discovered why Valley Glass charges about $28 to rescreen--this is a difficult job, and the results (if you don't do this regularly) aren't terribly pretty. There are enough screens involved here that we have told the builder to take care of this. If he delays too long, we'll have Valley Glass do it, and we'll deduct it out of the final check we still owe him for various work that has been done since we closed in December (about $5200).

And yes, I expect to write that check only after all warranty work has been done, and I will issue that check about as rapidly as he has responded to warranty claims. He may see it this year.

Last house project entry.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Another Great Idea Down The Tubes

My agent tells me that there has been one successful book about a house building project--Tracy Kidder's House, and that's bcause Kidder had a huge fan base. So I guess I'll resume writing history books.