Monday, October 20, 2008

Recycling Milk

I've been thinking about doing this for a long time, and finally got around to it..... definitely should've done it a while ago. I cut small notches in two sides of a milk crate, making two recycling bag holders.

Bag Notch

Crate with Two Bags

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Uncle Frank"

I've been pondering the idea of putting an animal mount in my stairwell for a while, and after Jeremiah forwarded me a craigslist posting advertising 2 caribou and 8 deer head being sold, the idea came to fruition.

It looks even better than I thought it would. The pictures really don't even do it justice. The amount the head comes out of the wall and commands attention is incredible. Standing at the top of the stairs, your eyes are just about in line with his, and as you walk down the stairs and look up, you gain additional perspective on his antlers.

I like how it looks and (although it sounds kind of lame) the earthy feel it gives to my otherwise calculated interior so much that I think I want to get more. The woman I got it from has 8 or more deer heads still for sale and last night my friend Nick had a pretty amazing idea to place one at each end of my dining room table, coming out from the center of foam that I have mounted on them. The contrast of the highly geometric, entirely man-made foam with a large wild animal would be really impressive I think.

Here's what the wall looks like on both sides of my dining room table (just one side shown, but it's the same on both).

Monday, June 9, 2008


This is a fairly unexciting topic, but it took me a while to do this and I'd been putting off doing it for so long, I think it deserves its own post.  I installed transition strips/thresholds this weekend between the cork floor and the sliding glass windows and the bathroom tile.  It wasn't a big deal, but also took some finagling to get right.  Pictured above is the transition by the front sliding glass window.

Not shown is the one I did for the other sliding glass window and the bathroom strip.  For the other sliding glass one, I cut small holes in the strip on the two ends so I could run some speaker wire under it and have my movie area wired for sound.  I'll take some pics of that when I document the main living room area and projector screen sometime soon.

Room Curtains!

I spent many-a-mornings with my room bright as the day because all I had on the sliding glass doors to prevent the light from coming in was a thin white sheet.  Last week though, my mom took the extra material from the curtain in the living room and made it into curtains for my bedroom!  I think it looks pretty great, and it definitely works well to keep the sun out.

It even allows me to leave my plants and my cats' bed in the window box and lets them get sun while keeping it out of the room.

In this picture you can also see that I've made a little seating area by the window.  My bed had been in the middle of the room, with a night stand to the right of it, but I moved that towards the door of the room and brought in two of the old-school/retro office chairs I have.  Now you can sit there and read or watch TV or just lounge.  I'm really liking the way the room feels with this area setup as opposed to before.

Ceiling Mounting the Projector

This weekend I worked on ceiling mounting my projector with my mom.  Since I got it, I've had the projector sitting on a little school desk between the couches.  It was fine while sitting down and watching movies, but walking in front of it caused you to be blinded by the bright light, and the power and video cables going to/from it were just asking for an accident.

I got a projector mount when I purchased the projector as part of the package, but in order to get the cables to/from it I needed to either install various types of video jacks in the ceiling, have cable run through the walls to another jack, where I'd plug things like my DVD player, comptuer etc into so that I could see them on the screen.  This would've been pretty expensive, so I went with the cheaper route of installing "raceway" from the projector, along the ceiling, to the wall, and then down.  Raceway is just a plastic guide for the cables to go in so they're not conspicuous.  It's fairly cheap and the sell it at Lowes and Home Depot.

I also had to cut out sections of my foam wall decorations/sound dampeners so that the raceway could run behind them, but that was pretty easy because of the fact that they're foam.

Once I finalize where my dvd player etc are going to be located, I'll run some more of the raceway horizontally along the wall to where it will end.  I also plan on getting a black power cable as opposed to the orange one you can see.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

$450... how much I'm going to get back on my taxes just from installing an energy efficient hot water heater ($300) and furnace ($150).

Definitely something to consider when considering upgrading appliances. Make sure to take advantage of this if you're able to.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It's about time...

Since I moved into my new house I've walked across the house every morning to shower in the guest bathroom which is off the living room. Then I'll come back to my room to walk through my bathroom to go into my closet, then maybe I'll have forgotten to brush my teeth, so I'll walk across the house again to go back to the other bathroom.

Before I bore you with the details of why that happened, I'll cut to the chase and show you the video of the bathroom tour. The begining's dark, so give it a second or two:

(ok, now get ready, this is gonna be boring)

There were a few reasons for my "master bathroom" (my mom hates that term, so I don't use it much and now it sounds a bit funny/pretentious) not being ready. First it was because the contractors didn't measure right for the cultured marble order and had to jury rig it slightly, and as a result, needed an extra piece to cover a joint. Then once I finally got that piece ordered and picked it up, I found that it was made slightly incorrectly and had to be replaced. Then I got it back, had the contractors come back in to install it, but realized that the caulking they'd used on the rest of the cultured marble was the wrong type. I got the right stuff for them and they came back, got rid of the old stuff and put the new stuff on. So all good, right?


They did a terrible job applying the caulking. The transition between the black caulking and the white wall looked horrible... it was varying thicknesses, not a straight line, missing in places, etc. Anyway, I was sick of relying on them to get it right so I decided to do it myself.

Removing the caulking kinda sucked, and after trying to put the new caulking on "free hand" with my mom, we realized that you really need to mask it off to make it look good. Sooo, we did that... then when I went to touch up scratches we'd made in the paint removing the old caulking, I discovered that masking tape doesn't stick to silicone caulking! This made painting pretty difficult.

After a good bit of work with all this, I think tonight I'm all set to use "my" bathroom for the first time tomorrow morning. I even installed the shower head my parents got me for x-mas that has a spinning center, haha.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Closet, I have it.

I finally installed the rod under my stairs for my coat rack. I have another idea I'd like to use for hooks hanging from the cieling, but that would be in addition to this. Wow, that picture's terrible.

Netflix should thank me...

... cuz I won't be driving over their DVDs anymore :P

Basket with cork back board
(Sorry for the poor photo)

I have a mailslot on my garage door, but no mailbox on the other side, so the mail just falls to the ground. My mom got me this plastic basket-type thing for x-mas to use as a mail basket and I finally got around to installing it on my garage door with a few bolts. After doing so I realized that the basket didn't return to it's normal position after the garage door went up and back down, making the mail miss the basket. To get around this, I bolted a piece of extra cork to the back of the basket, acting as a stop for the mail, as well as making it so people can't look into the garage.

Looking up at the basket on garage door in it's open position:

Number Ni... Seven.

I got this wood letter from Jo-Anna Fabrics, painted it with the same color paint as my siding and put three of the screw-bolts used to attach the siding in it (for show). It's too cold now, but when the weather's more temperate, I'm going to attach it to the concrete block with glue. For now I taped it to the front window though.

This. Is. Big. (Tetris.)

As it is now, my living room/dining room has a very prominent "flutter echo" from the two large parallel walls. Although it's a neat phenomenon, it's also somewhat annoying because it makes the room sound loud. I've been planning to put acoustic paneling up on this area for a while now to deaden the room, but that's quite a large project so it isn't one that I thought I'd get to in the near future. However, we started getting some things for work shipped in these large, crazy looking styrofoam pieces and I immediately thought to use them instead of the fabric panels I'd been envisioning. They're not really ideal acoustically for what I want to do, but they should help, and they're free.

I was able to get 18 of them so far, they measure about 18" x 29", and there's a top piece and a bottom piece. Top and Bottom are similar, but both have two distinctly different sides on them; one which has square bumps coming out of them, and the other that has half-cube like holes. Word on "the street" is that we get these regularly so I should be able to get more.

My first plan was to hang them on the wall with nails, but then tonight while my friends Teddy and Jess were over, we came up with an even better plan: put nails (or pegs) all over the wall, allowing you to rearrange the pieces anyway you want, anywhere you want. We also discovered that in addition to hanging them, if arranged in the right way, they can be stacked on top of each other, essentially making a giant Tetris/Jenga game! It's hard for me to convey how cool I think this is going to be. Anybody that comes over can just rearrange the wall in a manner they like.
Also, with the track lighting mounted only a foot or two from the wall some really dramatic shadows are created. Stop motion photography to come ;)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"The System" Works (Like a Dysfunctional Family)

Lots of updates to tell about the proposed place across the street today.

A few weeks ago the zoning hearing for the new building took place. Since I last wrote on here I re-examined what effect it would have on me and realized that looking out my window, I would barely be able to see the sky with this new building built as specified. I worked with my mom to create some scaled drawings of what it would look like next to my house and neighboring houses
and it really would be very out of place in the neighborhood, as well as blocking my light/view from the front. Additionally, my mom did some drawings showing that the land could easily be developed in a manner to fit 7 single family houses.

My mom and I went to the zoning hearing with two poster boards of drawings/pictures showing what I described above. The developer, his lawyer, a number of neighbors, and several Southside community groups (Southside Local Development Company, a Southside slopes group etc) showed up. After the zoning board had everybody state who they were and what their positions was (almost all the neighbors were opposed), the zoning board asked the developers' lawyer if they'd contact the neighbors or the neighborhood groups about the proposed development. When the lawyer said they hadn't, the board basically said, "Well, you should go and do that before you waste our time, because clearly there are some upset people here."

A week later the councilman arranged a community meeting. The meeting began with the developer going through a presentation he'd put together on who they were, who their company was, and what they hoped to do with the property. He focused heavily on it being a small family business (his wife, and two nephews were there, and his brother was involved, but couldn't make it) and that the intention was not to put in college rentals, but to put in nice condos for working professionals. The developer was clearly nervous, and I got the distinct impression from his manner during the presentation and through previous encounters with him on the street that he isn't a bad guy... just maybe didn't know the best way to go about these things. As they were talking there were clearly unhappy mumblings from the crowd here and there, with people talking under their breath or louder in disapproval at various things.

Next came the comment section in which the community members could have 2 minutes to speak. I went up first in an attempt to make a good example to the others of not being irate. I stated that although I was happy that somebody was developing the area and that they had some good ideas, the fact is that it's a really tall building that's out of place in the neighborhood and doesn't promote a neighborhood feeling at all. I explained that my mom had figured a way to put 7 single family houses in the same area and that this would be a much better way to develop the land. The comments from the other neighbors ranged extremely widely. The neighbors directly next to the property complained of irresponsible demolition practices, which they certainly had some justification in complaining about, while others practically yelled at them, and other still were pretty reasonable and logical about it all. It was really an interesting experience... the way people's approaches to the same thing can be so drastically different is fascinating.

Being that I didn't think the developers are terrible, money hungry people and having gone through a somewhat similar scenario with catty neighbors myself, I felt sorry for the developers a bit. Granted, I don't think their plan was the best it could be and they made some mistakes in not supervising their demolition crew properly... but so be it, nobody's perfect and they sure got an earful to think about. My mom, dad and I talked with them a bit after the hearing and they were clearly a bit shaken up by the whole thing.

I need to go to bed now, but the next chapter in this story is the Southside Planning Forum meeting just 5 days after the community meeting described above, and 2 days before the postponed zoning board hearing date.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The (Tax) Saga Continues

Soooo, as I mentioned a few days ago one of the things I had to do in the near future was to get the number of rooms and other clearly incorrect information changed on my house's real estate listing with the county/city. My mom found an e-mail of a woman down at the city who was the contact for this and so I e-mailed her and told her the information that was wrong and asked a few questions to clarify things like "what is a basement", "what is a room", etc. She said that she had changed the definitely wrong things, but that somebody would need to come out to check the place out to clear up the shaky things and asked for my phone number.

About half an hour later I get a call from a guy named Charles Rogan, who tells me he's the supervisor for the assessment office and that he's been following the e-mail trail about my house, took a look at my file himself and found that there had been a clerical error when assessing my house and that rather than instead of being assessed at $178k which it currently is, it should've been assessed at about $85k! Hahaha, just a little bit of a difference. This brought it down into what I would consider a fairly reasonable range as far as paying taxes and a huge wave of relief washed over me. He said he would notify the 3 taxing bodies so that they would have the proper new records and all should be good.

An hour later I get another call from a number not in my phone and this time the guy explains that he's with Charles Rogan on speakerphone and that he's Charles' boss and they've been looking over the file together. He says that Charles was right that there was an error with the assessment, but that the new assessment comes in at $185k, not $85k. I ask how that can be considering the previous assessment was lower! He says that the computer program calculated it with the new information and that the assessment was actualyl $200k before, so this really is a drop. I say that I've seen it on the county website as $178, and he says he doesn't think so. I load the page up and sure enough it says $178. He explains this by saying it probably hadn't been updated yet. He starts asking me if I have a homestead and that saying would drop the assessment a bit. I'm pretty much freaking out at this point, my heart racing and I say I don't know what a homestead is! Then the other voice comes in from the speaker phone saying, "Todd, I really suggest you look into the homestead." I repeat again, frustrated that I don't know what that is! The voice repeats the last statement about looking into the homestead.... and it takes me about 10 seconds to wrap my head around it, but I realize that its my dads voice! He'd gotten one of his workers to call me up while my dad was there in the office the whole time, listening, haha. It's been a while since I've seen anybody pull off something that good that wasn't me, so I gotta give him credit ;)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Whoops, I Forgot: Kittens Need Updates Too

I totally forgot that the last pictures I posted of K-Fed Jr were from before I even had him!

Here's Junior with his brother UB. UB is a bit of a special needs cat because his spine is twisted and he looks a bit deforme :P Hes still cute though and has a bit of a more sinister look than Jr.

UB on bottom left, Jr on top right

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Neighbors

I got notice in the mail the other day that there would be a public hearing in front of the zoning board to discuss the request of the developers who are working on the jail space across the street to change the zoning of the building from whatever it was to multiple-family residential. The note said the plans for the new building were available at the zoning office downtown, so my mom and I went down there to check them out this past Tuesday.

The side facing Uxor:

The sides facing Sarah (left) and 13th (right):


The good:
-The plans include the crappy college rental apartments across the street that were built up against the old jail. These were always rented out by dumb frat boys who would leave beer bottles in the street and barbecue while their dumb hoochies and loud friends would come by. In the 6 months I've lived here I think they've broken their windows 5-7 times. Needless to say they weren't exactly an asset to the neighborhood.

-Parking for the complex enters the "basement" on Sarah and then has an exit on 13th St. One of my concerns was that they would put the parking garage on Uxor because it's the least desirable in terms of view, so this was good to see. I really didn't want people driving up my street all the time and knocking off even more of my neighbors side-view mirrors.

-The design isn't bad. No aluminum siding, decent variation to the building as you go from bottom to top, and in general it's better than a lot of other new housing I've seen around the Southside recently. If I hated it I'd be pissed, but if I really liked it I might be even more pissed cause it would make my place look less unique/cool.

The bad:
-It's tall... and long. Although they list it as reducing the height from 53' to 40', only one portion of the building was actually 53' before, so the portion facing me is almost definitely going to be taller than the previous building. This blocks light and puts a big building right at the sidewalk, which may feel a bit ominous. My mom thinks the fact that there is a large building across the street from my house will make it dwarf mine and lower my property value... but considering I'm swapping a desolate, abandoned jail/police station and a crappy apartment for brand new condos, I think it'll still be a net increase.

.... and I think that's really the only negative thing about it. I may or may not go to the hearing and suggest that they put townhouses in instead. Single family residential is really waht the area is zoned for, so when the jail is gone, this is really what the land "should" be used for according to the zoning board. I'm not sure how much me going down there and suggesting that would really do though, or if it's worth making the developers come up with new architectural plans that I might like even less.

OK, enough posting for tonight... I'm spent.

I'm a Nice Guy (?)

Guess they didn't see the "No Parking" sign.

I found out about a month ago that the proper procedure for dealing with somebody parked in front of your house is to call 911 (surprise!). This seems a bit strange, but the way it works is you call them and then you specify whether or not you want the car ticketed or towed. If you say towed, then they make an attempt at contacting the person whose car it is (not quite sure how...), and then if they don't get a hold of them it's time for the car to take a little ride.

So far I've used this new-found knowledge twice. The first time was around 3am as I was coming home in my car. I parked somewhere else in the alley and called 911. It went something like this:
*ring ring ring*
"We're sorry, no emergency operators are available right now, please hold.
*ring ring ring*
"We're sorry, no emergency operators are available right now, please hold.
(repeat for about 2 minutes)
"Hello, Pittsburgh 911..."

Good thing it wasn't actually an emergency. I couldn't help but wonder how many other people were calling in for non-emergencies and how many other people were watching the person that just robbed them (or worse) run away while they sat on hold.

I didn't need to get into my garage, so just told them to ticket the person. By the time I woke up the next morning the car was gone.

Two nights ago I was actually home when somebody parked in front of the garage (see above picture). I went outside and looked around to see if I could find whose it was... but no luck. So I waited about 25 minutes in case it was just somebody swinging by somebody's house real quick, and then I called the cops. This was a bit different considering I had work the next morning and my car was in the garage, but I was thinking of biking to work anyways and it seemed likely the person was just at a bar and going to come back later that night... so I told them to just give the car a ticket. When I woke up the next morning the car was still there and I was able to check out how much the ticket was: $92.50, a pretty good deterrent to having them park there again.

Over the past couple days I told a few people about this and more than a couple times the response I got was, "Wow, you're a nice guy... I would've towed them." I dunno, although it's hard for me to imagine how somebody could be inconsiderate enough to park in front of what's clearly an inhabited house, it just seems like such an unpleasant experience to have your car towed I'd really rather not have to do it unless needed. Additionally, if somebody's that much of an jerk-off it's also likely they're a jerk-off enough to smash my window or garage door while they stand on my sidewalk calling somebody to pick them up to drive them to their car.

I'm quite possibly kinda screwed.

So, I got my notice of tax re-assessment in the mail today... and it's not so good.

It's assessed at about $180k, which means I would pay about $5k in taxes per year! I mean, I know the city needs money for various things, and I don't mind paying the 3% income tax for living in the city, but now to top it off we have the 10% drink tax and I have to drop $5k on taxes for my house? I guess what really ticks me off about the property tax is that it's the City of Pittsburgh that imposes it and the 3% income tax... So all the suburbanites don't have to pay any of it, yet would never be in this area if it weren't for the City of Pittsburgh, and they still reap all the benefits of being in the city. I suppose that's how/why cities like Baltimore get so run down and dilapidated. It's sad that so many people feel the need to save a few bucks at the expense of others. Granted, I'm annoyed that I have to pay so much and it's going to make things fairly hard on me financially, but a large portion of the reason I feel that way is because others, in my mind, are essentially cheating the system (that's not to say the city hasn't made it extremely easy to cheat the system... but still).

OK, enough about taxes and back to what I'm going to do about it. My first thought was, "Well, there's the tax abatement program that lets me slide on property taxes for 3 years because I built a new house and have improved the city. Great!" Then I went to get the forms in preparation for submitting my taxes... I'd assumed it would be like the tax credit for my instantaneous water heater that I submit when I file my taxes... nope! Turns out you're supposed to submit it 60 days from when the building permit was issued (well over a year ago). I'm going to try and see if I can get it anyways, but assuming they won't let me slide, that will add up to about $7,500 I've lost by making me think of that annoying phrase, "You know what they say about assumptions..."

They improperly listed the number of rooms and bedrooms I have, as well as the type of roof and the fact that I don't have a basement. These things may give me a little bit of fodder to base an appeal of my assessment on, but the bulk of it will need to be based on comparably houses in the neighborhood: something there aren't many of.

This whole process should definitely be a learning experience, though I'm sure a time consuming and possibly frustrating one as well.