Sunday, July 31, 2011

Encountering the Real World

We live in 3-dimensional space, or at least that's what our eyes and brains make out for us, considering that we are biologically designed to perceive only a particularly narrow spectrum of energy called light, which provides us with just enough information to survive, just enough so that we have the necessary depth perception to chase after wild animals and to spot different colored fruit in the trees. Yes, I've been reading a book about the brain--Cheryl is sick of me talking about it (and she's been giving me other books to read, hoping that I will shut up).

So, even though we believe that we are fantastically intelligent creatures, only a few very of us (and certainly I am not in the group) can comprehend quantum mechanics and multiple dimensions and all the fantastical truths of the universe. Most of us only see the X, Y and Z--like two walls and a ceiling--and that is challenging enough, apparently, for someone with my level of intelligence.

Due to a miscalculation, my top row of tile is about 5/8 inch from the ceiling--too far if I just intended to put tile on the ceiling. No, that would leave a wide gap between the ceiling tile and the wall tile. How does an adult make such a miscalculation, considering that I learned about these basic math concepts in the second or third grade? Did I think that my positive attitude and good nature and Zen concentration would correct for a few fractions of an inch? (I don't have a better explanation.)

So while some people are, at this moment, working feverishly to cure cancer, I am pondering how to solve my tile gap problem. Bigger still, I'm wondering how I will ever set tiles upside down on the ceiling without them crashing to the floor.

Then yesterday I found the answer on-line. More later...

Friday, July 29, 2011

Special Cuts

I've rounded a corner in the shower, and I've made the special cuts for the tiles around the shower faucet, taping them in place because each tile is snowflake-unique, with its own angles and dimensions.

Jam, my corporate motivational coach, is a constant presence at the job site, making notes for the bosses and sipping espresso and surfing the web while I work, sticking his shiny nose into the bathroom every few minutes to sniff around, as if the quality of my work had some particular odor.

His friendly and casual manner rubs against me like a wet stone. And yet I am glad when he gives me a lick or the slightest bit of attention. Obviously I am not management material, because I still don't understand this mystery--why do we feel the need to please some people more than others?

This weekend I should be finished with the faucet wall and the back wall. Then it's time for the ceiling--tiling upside down...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Relatively Good Progress

Despite my attempts to resist the pressures coming from the new consultant, I find myself working with some efficiency on the bathroom project. Jam (that's the consultant's name--he thinks he is so cool) is at the work site bright and early each morning, and his sole mission in life is to motivate me to finish the bathroom project in a timely manner.

So I take my sweet time fixing the coffee and having breakfast and checking my email, determined not to let him get under my skin. But there he is, unflapped, and before long I'm lulled back into the bathroom to do work. Boy, he's good.

I've got half the big shower wall done, leaving for now the three-dimensional issues (where the ceiling tiles meet the wall tiles) on hold until the walls are done. I've put a batten board down the middle of the wall to keep me completely centered, and it's a good thing, considering how the lop-sided tiles are so irregular. I'm doing the right side, then the left.

I thought I was making some good progress until Cheryl popped in (accompanied by Jam) and said "Gee, I thought you would be further along by now."

For most people such a statement would have some clear intent, a more-than-mild rebuke for being so slow, but from Cheryl I took it as a statement of fact; she simply thought I would be further along, and she did not consider it necessary to edit her feelings before letting them pop out. I love her very much.

But, in fact, I am making remarkable progress, though with an unfortunate setback Wednesday when, in the middle of setting tiles, I could not remember how many rows of dark green should be on the wall. My notes, it turned out, were not as clear as they should have been. More later...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jam, the Consultant

After a project founders for a few weeks or months, the management team will often get together to consider how best to assign blame. When multiple layers of management exist, each upper layer will look to the next layer below and affix the blame there, calling it a crisis of leadership, a failure to inspire, as if all work springs forth from a desire to please the boss man. And this pile of blame tumbles down hill until it lands on the immediate supervisor, in this case, Willow, who has no to blame except me, and that excuse is now worn out.

In such cases, the immediate supervisor will, if she is smart, bring in a consultant to prove that the problems are technical in nature (and deceptively difficult) and certainly not due to a failure of leadership. Such consultants are usually young, energetic and devious. And so, this morning, Jam the consultant came to visit the work site.

Oh yes, Jam was friendly and polite to me, like a good son eager for some advice from his good old dad. I showed him the bathroom and explained how we have been so busy for the past few months and how not much has gotten done. But he just stared at me with big eyes and peppered me with questions, one after another, and of course I knew what he was doing, playing with me like I was the child, like I was a spoiled kid who needed to quit stalling and clean his bedroom.

So I explained about how the tiles will be set on the wall so that they are level and so that the bottom row will fit in above the bathtub in all places, nicely and with no awkward gaps.

And yes, I answered, we could put up the first batten piece now--there's no reason to wait...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The CEO Decides, Part 2

In just a few minutes a roofing contractor will arrive, and all because I was unable to repair or to even diagnose the problem that developed during the heavy rainstorms last week and that caused part of the ceiling to swell and drip and swell some more until it finally broke free and fell to the floor. I've covered the open area with a scrap of plywood.

This won't be the first roofing contractor to come out, so I don't have high expectations. The other guys have just held up their hands and walked away without even estimating the job, as though rain water was some supernatural and magical force better left alone. Even a completely new roof, one guy told me, might not solve the problem. How crazy is that?

So this weekend I decided to solve the mystery for myself, to climb up on the roof with a water hose and squirt here and there while Cheryl watched from inside for a drip--a dumb idea because water moves from the roof to the ceiling by slowly wicking through the rafters, like a sponge. I knew this. It moves sideways, all ways, through the wood. I knew this. Or at least part of my brain knew this.

Another part of my brain told me that I should definitely not climb up on the roof. It has very strong feelings about high places.

The CEO (my conscious mind) ignored all this advise and decided to climb up and squirt. I can only guess that he was motivated by the thought of saving a few bucks, which is what you might expect from the CEO. Sad.

I took the small step ladder onto our balcony and climbed to the top step. Even so, I would have to jump, or squirm a little, to get up over the edge, which meant that I would have to do the opposite on the way down. Once committed to the top, I would have no choice than to come down or call for a helicopter to get me. So I hopped up and it was done.

I squirted and squirted in the area above the leak, probably for 15 minutes (probably longer, just to avoid the thought of coming down), but nothing happened inside. Time to get down.

More later.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The CEO Decides, Part 1

It's been almost three months since the kitchen fire. Three months, and yesterday I finally got the small set of cabinets cleaned up and put back in place. One of our kitchen bar stools was the perfect size to hold the cabinet while I placed it.

Sometime this week I'll do the remaining touch-up to the cabinet finish, yet another distraction and postponement of the bathroom project.

In the meantime we've sprung a new ceiling leak near the top of the stairs. The leak is situated is such a way that suggests its origin, which is never a sure thing, especially with older houses like this. So I got the bright idea, despite my intense fear of heights, to crawl up on the roof with a water hose and spray one place and then another while Cheryl waited and watched from inside. We settled on the strategy that she would shout the word "Nothing" again and again until some drops appeared.

My acrophobia extends back into early childhood, back to some event that wired my baby brain with a life-time warning about falling. I suspect I fell off a table and whacked my baby head on the floor, and because this theory serves to explain other aspects of my behavior, I have no reason to suspect otherwise.

Anyway, I've been reading a book about the brain. One interesting notion is that the conscious mind is like a corporate CEO, just there to make the big decisions while the vast array of specialized employees (the unconscious mind) do the real work (like breathing and seeing) in anonymity. As a result, the CEO thinks that he makes everything happen. When there is an internal conflict, like when one part of the brain wants to climb up on the roof and another one does not, the CEO steps in to make the decision. When you are unsure about whether to have another piece of pie, the CEO makes the call. Otherwise, he mostly naps.

At the top of the ladder I hesitated for a long time, knowing that once committed to the roof, the hard part would be coming down.

More later.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I bought a paper hat in Rome, not just because I am a dweeb but because the top of my head was burned and blistered. By the time we got to Venice I was sometimes forced to wear it. Fortunately Venice is a very shady place.

Being a hopelessly romantic person, I insisted that we go on a gondola ride. Of course the rides are ridiculously expensive, but Venice is sinking into the sea, and when will we get another chance to paddle up to the home where Mozart lived or to where Marco Polo waved goodbye to his family? (OK, possibly the ride was not completely my idea...)

We turned the corner and found ourselves in the alleyway of a deserted and decaying city. What we saw would have shocked the Venetians of years ago--their houses sunk below the water.

In many places people no longer live on the bottom floors because the sea rushes in each day at high tide. Ornate, fancy doors stand proudly, rotting at the bottom. Many windows were bricked up to help provide some stability. The population of Venice has decreased dramatically in the past several years because no one can afford to buy and fix these buildings.

My silly brain, it seems, is unable to relax and enjoy some history--I just want to fix up these places.

The sea bed is sinking, and global warming will raise the water level just enough to really complicate things in this century. A great deal of money comes into Venice, and they have ambitious projects underway (like some giant gates that are meant to hold out the water from high tides), but the outlook for Venice is grim.

More than once during the ride I was reminded of being on Lake Overcup as a kid years ago, quietly paddling around in a small boat at a good fishing spot, around the remains of an old house, except all we could really see was its chimney sticking up from the water and the gray trunks of trees that once shaded the driveway.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cave Canem

More than 2,000 years ago someone designed and built this jacuzzi in Pompeii, a city that rivalled Rome at the time. I remember learning about Pompeii in grade school, how it was buried by volcanic ash, but I had no idea about it size--acres and acres, and only about a third of it has been unearthed so far.

The big sunken bath above featured plumbing with clay and lead pipes. In the center you can see how the floor was supported above spaces to circulate steam. Obviously these guys cared about their leisure time.

We walked down the city streets and could clearly identify the shops and restaurants, complete with pizza ovens, and then into the residential district. At one house, in the hallway leading to the front door, is this famous mosaic of a dog with the phrase "Cave Canem" (beware of dog). But notice the crouched position and wagging tail--dog people would have known that this was a playful dog (despite the barred teeth), so I see it as a mixed message. "Beware of dog," it says, "(except for dog people)"

Someone took the time to construct this picture out of thousands (maybe trillions) of small tiles. How long did it take, I wonder, and was there a project manager and a deadline?