Monday, April 25, 2011

Cleaning Crew

We have a fire restoration company working to bring everything back to pre-fire conditions, but in some cases, as with the cleaning away of soot today, the condition will be improved since our cleaning crew is working in places that have been long neglected, like the tops of the kitchen cabinets.

One of the cleaners told me how glad he was to have some work. He gets paid by the hour instead of salary. So a fire or flood is, in that regard, good news for him. It's some steady work for a few days.

Being a virtual idiot in economics, I am overwhelmed by all the things I don't know; like how so many people can make a living and survive on the shifting sands of supply and demand, and how people can feed their families and pay off mortgages with uncertain wages, working in an economy that is slowly circling the big toilet bowl.

Cheryl and I are lucky to have steady work. We are lucky in many ways. I'm glad at least some good has come from the fire--at least the restoration people are working.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just to be Safe

My laptop has a fingerprint reader that I use to log on, but for some reason it is not able to see my fingerprint through the bandages and the burns on my index finger. So Monday morning I was stuck. The only recourse, the only way I could do any work, was to somehow remember that password I created over a year ago and that I then never used again, never imagining that someday my index finger would not be available for scanning.

To make things worse I have countless passwords--for work, for online banking, for online shopping, and so on--all of them different, but not all are written down. Apparently I never bothered to write down the computer's password.

But now we are very safety and security conscious. We just got a new fire extinguisher. We're looking at getting a new home security system and fire-proof safe. And when I went to see the doctor this week, I put Willow in the backyard. Just in case.

Then on Friday Cheryl and I went to my appointment at Tampa General Hospital's burn unit. After seeing some of the other patients there, I realized how minor my burns are. They cut away all the remaining blisters on my hands and wrapped me up and patted me on the head like I was some four-year-old who had just run into the house to show her mommy the mean splinter in her finger. My hands should be healed up in a week or two, no problem.

I finally did remember the password. I probably should write it down somewhere.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Blistered and Flustered

My hands are still blistered and still wrapped up. For the past two days Cheryl has been the bandage architect, slapping on layers of this creamy stuff, then some pads, then gauze wrapping, then taping and then various final wrappings, the twists and turns of which cause us to argue (over the thumb here; no, under, etc.) until I am the mummy again. To be clear, Cheryl is just as good a bandager as the nurses I've seen this week, and I'm glad she can put up with me.

My burns don't really hurt. They haven't really hurt all week, and this is not a good sign, I'm told by the doctor. I have no complaints in this regard. I can wiggle my fingers freely and type, so everything seems OK. Today I go to the Tampa General burn unit just to be sure.

The project delay is really starting to bother me, though project manager Willow is handling it all in stride, reminding me to take all the time I need, etc. I can never figure her out. Anyway, I am just now to a fun spot--doing the sink and the mirror.

I lined up some tiles to get a general idea of what the mirror will look like on the wall, one row of the small tiles and a border of the rope tiles. In this picture, the mirror is showing a reflection of the wood panel ceiling in the guest bedroom, and you can see a blade of the ceiling fan.

More later.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fire, Bad

We had a big day yesterday. Our microwave short-circuited and started a fire, filling the house with smoke but fortunately not much damage.

I was just getting ready to work on the bathroom, both of us upstairs, when the alarms went off, and I tore downstairs to find smoke pouring from the microwave and flames shooting out the vent on top and dripping out the bottom. We had not even used it, except I always use the microwave timer to make Cheryl's special French press coffee in the morning (too bitter for me).

There are some burn marks on the floor--not too bad. And some damage to some cabinets. The stove and microwave are toasted. And we lost some appliances. And there's some smoke damage. And the smell. And... I won't go into detail.

I had the fire put out by the time the fire department got there, but they were great and helped clean up the water mess I created.

Anyway, my hands got sprinkled with some bubbling black ooze, which I was unable to wash off and which the people at urgent care also weren't able to remove (eventually it will wear off, they say). So now I am in a bandaged state and aware of the many things to appreciate about fingers. Like typing. But no permanent damage--just waiting for them to heal, two or three weeks.

Cheryl took a video of them bandaging me, so I'll be posting that soon. Then I pretended to be the Frankenstein monster, saying Fire, bad, and I scared Cheryl. Ha.

And I had just gotten the new mirror for the bathroom--I'll be tiling around it with the decorative pieces.

But probably not this week.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Working in Hyperspace

Placing the tiles for sink vanity is an exercise in three-dimensional geometry, where very slight changes in one dimension can greatly affect all the other dimensions, even those that we cannot even see, but why worry about them because who knows if the people who live there even use the toilet or wash their hands or are interested in anything other than subatomic wave fluctuations and the occasional fuzzball singularity.

In order to allow for full tiles on the counter top, I need to bring two of the 2 x 4 inch bullnose pieces together next to the full tile that will go at the edge. I put masking tap on this relationship because it won't change. But I can slide these three tiles around on the counter top as necessary to let the bullnose hang over the edge.

The bullnose tiles need to overlap the side tiles exactly so that there is a smooth edge. Otherwise your private parts will feel a sharp poke when you bend over the sink, though I do plan to have a big sign in the bathroom that says "No bending over the sink."

So the side tiles that go under these corner bullnoses are attached first (thanks to Mark for this tip), then the three-dimensional assembly is wiggled around until alignment is achieved. Sure, I could have used basic Calculus to set the locations, but I find that wiggling is just as effective.

Meanwhile I'm getting ready to attach the rope tiles above the border. These are really cool.

I also cut a fairly decent hole for this pipe. No one will see it because it will be covered with a decorative piece, but I may show it from time to time.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stream of Consciousness Tiling

I've tiled floors, counter tops, patios. All of them horizontal, with gravity working as a silent partner. Dumb gravity, happy to hold your tile just so.

When tiling on the wall, however, gravity becomes a more active partner, eager to rearrange tiles when you aren't looking. And on the ceiling, gravity becomes your enemy--I don't want to think about the ceiling yet.

Each bucket of mortar that I mix is either a little too runny or too hard--I can't seem to get a perfect batch, something that is often referred to as a peanut-butter consistency.

Today I'm going to get scientific about it instead of just adding more water, then more mortar, then more water, etc. I'm going to develop a formula, and I'm determined to mix up a perfect batch.

Yesterday I tiled the wall behind the toilet, and I experimented with an approach that might be called stream of consciousness. Knowing that these handmade tiles cannot be and will not be aligned perfectly, I set out to blank out my mind and let the tiles place themselves free from my constant worrying and micro-managing and placement planning. And this was working very nicely until I ran out of mortar and had to mix some more, and I got irritated when I mixed much more mortar than I needed, and then I returned to tiling, annoyed with myself and trying to get back into the zone when a perfect storm of bad luck put the wrong set of tiles together in the top 2 rows (which I have since removed).

So I won't be using the tile meditation approach any more. Tiling requires some degree of mental attention. The yogis like to say, An active mind is a sick mind. Well, don't let a yogi tile your bathroom.

Today I start tiling the sink.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Zen and the Art of Cutting Corners

Be aware of the tile
Feel the tile
Cut the tile

In total, I'll be putting about 30 of the little accent tiles on the walls. Each piece is surrounded by 4 tiles that need their corners lopped off, about 120 tiles to cut.


I've created a jig that cuts each tile in about the same place. But I was bothered because the wet saw can create a jagged edge on the tile. So I tried taping the tile first. Then I discovered that the secret is to move the tile slowly through the saw--the tape wasn't really helpful.

Slowly. The saw motor makes a gentle hum, and the cutting sound is almost musical, muffled by the water that the saw blade spins through.

And the tray of water under the saw is clay red, just bits of mud from some creek bank in Mexico and hand pressed into shape, just as Cheryl and I witnessed once on a trip to Zihuatanejo, somewhere out in the jungle where a man and his family (some really young kids who he swore also went to school) turned red clay into barrel roof tiles.

So yesterday, interrupted by countless phone calls, I was able to cut through 6 sets of tiles even though none of them got placed on the wall.

Unlike the actual tiling, which is dictated by the tick-tick-tick drying out of mortar in the bucket that keeps you from walking away for very long, tile cutting can be done slowly, one at a time, with no harm done by interruption or by a careful attention to detail.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Goodbye, Jeff B.

Yesterday I learned that a friend of mine passed away. He was crusty, and I'm not sure how many people could tolerate him. We knew each other mostly by email, passing back and forth the technical details of databases and the logic that makes them work well, stuff that should be boring but that we both enjoyed very much.

Whenever we did meet in person at his company, I tried always to walk up and shake his hand first, because he was an honest person, despite his insane politics, someone who loved his dogs and who was not afraid to speak his mind and go against the wind.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Beauty and Imperfection

If the secret of true beauty is imperfection, then I am quite beautiful, and our new bathroom tiles may be the most beautiful tiles on earth.

Almost all of these hand-made tiles are curved and buckled and many of them are comically out of square. I knew this from the start--I swore I'd never use this type of tile, I said this again and again to Cheryl, who made sure we visited that Mexican tile place at Christmas time.

To start, I fastened some boards level near the bottom of the 3 connecting walls and marked off some grid lines. The boards support the tiles and keep them from sagging while I'm setting them in place. Later I'll remove the boards, put down the new floor tiles (which we still haven't picked out) and then install the bottom row of wall tiles.

I had pre-cut some corners so that I could install an accent piece in my initial run. And then, despite myself, I could find no reason not to begin tiling. So I did.

I found it cumbersome to get into a rhythm at first. And after the first 3 or 4 were on the wall, I started to doubt the whole project and the purpose of my existence. I couldn't even get 2 tiles to line up.

But then the bigger picture began to emerge. The tiles are highly reflective and the curved surfaces create an unusual characteristic, though I can't seem to capture it with a photo yet. Beautiful, I think.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Complete Vanity

Luckily I inspected our new sink faucets and discovered that I needed some special holes for them (wider at the bottom than at the counter top). After the tile is in place, our vanity will be about 2.5 inches thick--the faucet threads only extend down 1.5 inches. Nice to know this now rather than later.

So, with the faucet holes drilled, I covered the wood in plastic, fastened the backer board on top and then wrapped the edges in mesh tape. It's ready to be tiled when the time comes--I'll start tiling on the walls first.

I got some more good advice from my friend who does this stuff for a living; he recommended a specific trowel to use considering the uneven proportions of my hand-made, sun-dried tiles. (More on that later.)

Next I created a jig for my wet saw. We'll be putting these small accent pieces here and there, and each piece requires 4 tiles to be cut. The jig (upper left of the photo) allows me to drop a tile in place and quickly lop off the right amount.

All in all, it was a very good weekend. Taxes done. Invoices done. Dogs walked. Wife appeased. Vanity done (for now).

I think it's time to tile...