The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…



Things that happen in or around the home

It’s snowing…in slow motion!

It’s just started snowing here in central Oregon, so I shot a bit of slow motion snowfall. The end result is very oddly mesmerizing (open the video in a new window to see it at full size):

The snow looks like some fake Hollywood effect when seen in slow motion. But hey, it’s falling, it’s sticking, and the kids may get a white Christmas after all!

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday…I’m outta here to go play in the snow!

Fake fire … enhanced

To make our winter-air-blocked non-functional fireplace more visually engaging, I printed a huge fireplace image across multiple pages, and taped them to the fireplace blocker. The end result was usable, but definitely not professional:

So I set out to find a shop to print a 36″x48″ poster of the huge image. And because this was clearly an optional project, I wanted to do it as cheaply as possible. After much web searching, I found Poster Print Factory. Their online poster creation tool was easy to use, and the cost ($35 including shipping) was the lowest I found by at least $10.

It took about a week, but the poster arrived and the quality is fine. It’s printed on relatively thick stock, and the image itself looked stunning. So now, our artificial fire has been enhanced by a high quality poster overlay:

So much nicer to look at than the silvery surface of a piece of foam insulation! Anyway, if you’re looking for some inexpensive poster-sized prints, I was happy with what I got from Poster Print Factory.

Cutting the land line (sort of)

Being old school—and just old in general—our family has always had a land line (i.e. Plain Old Telephone Service or POTS). We’ve also had the same POTS phone number for well over a decade, so it’s the number that everyone uses to call us at home. Add in the fact that (at least until very recently) AT&T cell service at our home was marginal to poor, and there really wasn’t much desire to cut our land line for all-cellular.

Until I looked at our bill, that is, and discovered that our POTS line was costing us over $30 a month. Even at that amount, we paid extra for caller ID, and still had to pay for long distance calls. So once AT&T upgraded the cell towers near our home, we started using our cell phones for all long distance calls. But still, our POTS number was well known to friends and family, so we didn’t want to just kiss it goodbye. But that $30+ a month was basically a complete waste of money, so I started looking for other solutions.

Enter VOIP, or Voice Over IP. This technology has been around a long time, but I never really felt ready to make the move. Then I started looking into it, and found that I could save about 90% of the monthly cost of my POTS line, keep my phone number, and gain a number of useful features. That made the “go” decision quite easy to make; read on if you’re curious about replacing a land line with a VOIP service.


Fixing a lawn mower, then and now…

On Sunday afternoon, I went to pull our mower from the garage to attack the jungle growing in our yard. Apparently while pulling a car into the garage at some point, I had managed to snag the mower’s grass catcher between the car’s wheel and a garage support post. The end result was a mangled piece of metal that more resembled avant-garde sculpture than it did a grass catcher. I borrowed the neighbor’s mower for the day, which solved the problem in the short term. But long term, I was in need of a new frame and grass catching bag.

With the power of a time machine, here’s how that task would have gone 30 years ago, and how it went on Sunday…


Shedding some light on the cost of lighting

In our home, our kitchen is lit with eight in-ceiling flood lights. Each uses a 65W incandescent bulb, and it seems to me that at least one of them is burned out at any given point in time.

Frustrated by the never-ending replacement cycle, and aware that there were longer-lived and more-efficeint options out there, I decided to look into replacing the incandescent bulbs with either CFL (fluorescent) or LED lights.

I was curious as to whether CFL or LED would be the better option for us, and how much it would cost to switch, in both the short and long term.

tl;dr summary: If you can afford the up-front costs, switch your lights to CFL or LED now. You will save a lot of money, and spend less time replacing bulbs. Read on for a full cost analysis of my kitchen light replacement project.


Does the Tooth Fairy exist?

This morning, when I woke Kylie, our nine year old daughter, she hit me with some Tooth Fairy questions: “Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy?” “How can she be real, she’d be busy all the time with millions of kids losing their teeth every day!” “If she’s real, she’d never forget a kid, right?”

Odd, but with Kylie, you’re never sure what you’ll get in the morning. So we went through the morning’s tasks, getting ready for school, and then she hits me with: “Dad, there’s no way the Tooth Fairy is real, and I’ve got proof…right here!” And she pulls out her Tooth Fairy pillow, where you place teeth for the Tooth Fairy to collect and replace with coins.

She then pulls a tooth out of the pocket of the pillow, and says “This is my tooth; it fell out yesterday, and I didn’t tell you or Mom. Then I put it under my pillow last night, and the Tooth Fairy didn’t take it!”


At that point, I took her into the other room, so our younger daughter wouldn’t hear, and explained that yes, the Tooth Fairy was really Mom and Dad, and we did it to help our kids through what can sometimes be a bit of a traumatic experience. I asked her to keep this secret from her sister, and she merrily agreed.

This one’s got a future in science, I think! (I also realized that had I noticed the missing tooth, and managed not to say anything to her, she would’ve woken up today absolutely convinced that the Tooth Fairy really exists!)

A Rube Goldberg-inspired garage parking assistant

We recently started parking our truck in the shorter of our garage bays—it’s short due to shelves at the front that can’t be moved any further forward (as they’d then block access to another portion of the garage).

The amount of wiggle room available is quite small—about two inches of leeway, at the most. So parking in the same spot every time is quite important. (The frontmost item on the truck is the bracket that holds the license plate, so that’s the part that needs to be watched.)

While there are many ways to solve this issue, here’s how I chose to do it:

Sure, I could have hung a tennis ball from the ceiling (I did that first, actually), or put a block on the ground in front of the tire. But I had issues with both of those methods, and I like semi-geeky do-it-yourself solutions. Read on, if you wish, for the details on the project…


Thanks and goodbye, Tatters!

I was never a cat person growing up; my family always had dogs. Once I got through college, I lived in shared housing arrangements for the first five years of my work life (the joys of living in Silicon Valley)—so that meant no pets of my own. My jobs were also such that having a pet would be difficult, as I traveled a fair bit. So I remained petless for many years.

In January of 1994, though, I purchased my first home (shortly after moving to Oregon). In all ways but one, it was a very typical starter home: 1970s three-bedroom two-bathroom ranch with too much dark wood, not enough light, horrendously outdated kitchen, and and orange-and-white marble-look-but-plastic guest bath.

The one way in which it differed is that the home came with a guilt trip, which led directly to my first-ever experience as a cat owner…

Five easy steps to a heart attack

Here’s how it’s done…

  1. Have your cat awaken you at 4:30am, pawing your face to let you know he’s hungry.
  2. Head downstairs in a stupor, leaving the annoyingly-bright lights off.
  3. Open cat food and start scooping it into the cat’s bowl, letting the cat know just how you feel about the 4:30am wake-up pawing.
  4. See the light from, and hear the click of, the downstairs bathroom light coming on.
  5. Have heart attack.

OK, so clearly I didn’t actually have a full-on heart attack. Instead, my pulse merely doubled and I had an amazing adrenaline surge.

As soon as I started breathing again (quietly), I reasoned that any intruder with even a quarter of a brain wouldn’t actually bother to turn on the bathroom light, nor would they have ignored my easily-audible talking to the cat.

So what was the cause of the spurious pulse-quickening light? It turns out that our six-year-old daughter apparently heard me, and had gotten up to use the bathroom. Why she chose to come downstairs–very quietly, I might add–I have no idea, as there’s a bathroom just down the hall from her room.

Needless to say, after bundling our daughter off to bed again, I found it basically impossible to go back to sleep, given the adrenaline coursing through my veins.

Household math

OK, so it’s strange math :). The top-left image (taken before we bought the place; I didn’t actually take any “before” pictures) is the wall of brick that surrounded the fireplace in our home. Add to that a Dasco Pro Mason Chisel with Hand Guard and a Stanley Three-Pound Drilling Hammer, and the end result is a pile of brick in the driveway … oh yea, you need to add a fair bit of sweat, and a wheelbarrow will greatly ease the task of hauling out the brick.

This was the first time I’d ever tried to demolish a brick wall. Overall, it was actually a bit easier than I expected, other than the sheer number of bricks involved. I can highly recommend the chisel I used; it made short work of the mortar between the bricks, and the hand guard definitely works well–I didn’t hit my hand once, despite swinging the three-pound hammer probably well over 1,000 times to break out all the bricks. If you’re going to break down a brick wall, I definitely recommend a chisel with the hand guard.

(I took out the wall so that we could use the space on the right of the fireplace for a built-in bookshelf and storage cabinet, and to install a gas fireplace in place of the current wood-burning insert. Those projects, however, will be handed off to a professional–I can destroy, but I’m not so good at the build-it-up part!)

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