Monthly Archives: November 2007

Why you should switch to LED Christmas Lights

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It’s about time to start decorating for the holidays.  One way to save energy this season is with LED christmas lights.  They require up to 90% less electricity than incandescents.

This data from the PG&E website shows the billing impact:

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Worm farms bringing joy to corporate offices

From a story on worm composting in today’s L.A. Times…

“There’s something rotting in local offices too, which may not be a bulletin. California’s Integrated Waste Management Board is encouraging public and private employees to bring worms and set up office compost bins. With a third of workers not leaving the office for lunch anymore, there’s plenty to scavenge. Irvine architectural firm LPA Inc. is doing its part. Designer of K-12 schools and corporate headquarters, LPA inaugurated a couple-thousand-strong worm bin in May, as well as a coffee composter. A sign above the bin reads, “Feed the Worms,” which employees do with egg shells, fruit and leftover salad.”

I wonder if Dwight Schrute read this?  The compost would surely be good for his beets.

I am happy to report that my own worms are in a much improved state.  They have gone from half-dead to all out worm-food-decomposition-orgy.  They are multiplying like crazy.  I think the biggest problem was lack of moisture.  They seem to enjoy it wet.  The cooler temperatures probably suit them too.

One recent evening I made a big crazy salad and whirred up all the vegetable leftovers in the blender with some water, and I think after feeding them that it doubled my worm stock overnight.  Pureed vegetables = worm aphrodisiac!

The best pumpkin desserts and where to find them

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From The Dallas Morning News.

In the Taste section of today’s DMN there’s a story I wrote about takeout pumpkin desserts.  I tasted quite a few pies, cookies, truffles etc. in this exercise and my favorite was the pumpkin spice cookie from a bakery called Tart.  That’s it in the photo up above.  It was cakey and gingerbready and reminded me of some cookies my mom makes.  I may try to duplicate this.

Damaged concrete as high art

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Doris Salcedo Shibboleth 2007 Photo: Tate

Concrete’s been on my mind lately, so I find this exhibit at the Tate Modern in London particularly interesting. I can’t help but wonder… did she use a jackhammer? Was there muriatic acid involved? Will they use Quickrete to patch this? Do they have a plan for repairing this mess?

From the Tate website:

“Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth is the first work to intervene directly in the fabric of the Turbine Hall. Rather than fill this iconic space with a conventional sculpture or installation, Salcedo has created a subterranean chasm that stretches the length of the Turbine Hall. The concrete walls of the crevice are ruptured by a steel mesh fence, creating a tension between these elements that resist yet depend on one another. By making the floor the principal focus of her project, Salcedo dramatically shifts our perception of the Turbine Hall’s architecture, subtly subverting its claims to monumentality and grandeur. Shibboleth asks questions about the interaction of sculpture and space, about architecture and the values it enshrines, and about the shaky ideological foundations on which Western notions of modernity are built.

In particular, Salcedo is addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.”

50 days left to make efficient home improvements for a 2007 tax credit

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How much will the government pay me to replace this window?

Where does the time go? Seems like summer was just here, and yet there’s already a radio station here playing 24-7 Christmas tunes.

With just 7 weeks left until the end of 2007, it’s a good time to wrap up tax tasks. One credit worth considering is the home energy efficiency improvements credit.  According to the EnergyStar.gov website, the credit for improvements to the “envelope” of your home expires Dec. 31, 2007.

There are rules and limits for each category of improvement. Too many to get into here. But I thought it was worth considering a specific example, doable before Dec. 31, to show one tax saving scenario.

My 1964 ranch house has old aluminum windows everywhere but the front three windows. I’d like to replace four bedroom windows and two bathroom windows with new vinyl ones.

The ballpark quote Home Depot gave me on replacing these was $1,900. Window tax credits are up to 10% of a maximum of $2,000 spent. The easiest way to figure out what your credit would be is by filling out the Form 5695.

Given all the rules, this project, if completed before Dec. 31, would make me eligible for $190 credit that would appear on Line 50 of my 2007 1040. I suppose it’s not huge, but it’s not tiny either, and I am somewhat more likely to take this on.

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Concrete repair ideas and advice

My cracked concrete front porch won over the voting masses in this week’s “Pick My Project” poll. What an eyesore!

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I’ll be honest — this was not a fun job. It’s important to patch bad concrete, though, because with winter coming, damaged bits will only get worse. That’s because when it freezes, moisture in the cracks expands into ice, flaking the surface even more.

The good news is that there are a lot of good inexpensive products available for patching busted concrete. The chemical formulations have advanced to produce stronger, better looking results than plain old concrete, and if your spot to fix is small, ready-mixed patching formulas will make your job a lot easier.

First, you must clean. As with so many home improvement projects, preparation is key.

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Chisel and bang and pry out all the loose bits. Tell yourself you’ll get a manicure with the money you save doing this hard-on-your-hands job. Use a hoze with a nozzle to blast out the tiniest rocks. If you are brave enough to take this a step further, you can use a diluted muriatic acid solution to further clean the surface.

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Muriatic acid is not for weenies. It is highly caustic and you have to be really careful about how you use it. I applied the diluted solution with a throwaway sponge brush. This is the first time in my adult life I applied the high school lab lesson of pouring acid into water and not the other way around.

Applying the acid caused fizzing. Sort of like when you spill 7UP. If you inhale the fumes it can burn your lungs, so it’s no surprise it also kills plants.

The point of using such a strong acid is that it etches the surface and makes it chemically more prepared to bond with new patch material. I talked with a guy who pours a lot of concrete this week, and he highly suggested using it. There are other, less caustic alternatives, but they are very expensive and I couldn’t find much feedback about their effectiveness. I was just really careful and only poured what I needed. One other muriatic acid tip — go to a smaller hardware store and you can buy it in smaller quantities. Home Depot only sells this in huge 5 gallon 2-packs in the garden dept. I bought a little bottle at Lakewood Ace Hardware for about $2.50.

Here is the cleaned out crack. Yikes!

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After cleaning the crack it’s time to patch. I recommend buying premixed patch if your job is small. My crack was too big for that, so I bought a 40 lbs bag of Quickrete Concrete Patch at Home Depot for about $10 and mixed it up with water using a shovel in a 5 gallon bucket. This is VERY hard work. When your back is about to give out and the consistency is that of grainy peanut butter, you have 30 minutes to work with the material. I used a small trowel to pack and smooth the patch.

The end result is not perfect but it is better than it was. A day later it is still drying, as you can see here. I plan to stain the porch in the next couple weeks, so hopefully that will smooth out the variations in color.

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All of the photos from this project are posted here on my Flickr account. Happy Patching!