Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to! Part 2

So, as it snowed lightly today, I thought I would give the sonotube footings a try. (It was snowing, but the temp was hovering around 40) I cut them about two inches, because I didn't want the lower ones on the slope to stick up too much. If this were a real deck, I would want them to rise about 8 inches or more above the ground-line, but in this case, I have a limited scale (I can't go higher than the roof of the playhouse), and there will be minimal human use. I don't anticipate a drainage problem. I may put pea-gravel all around underneath to help with this. Anyway, I put the tubes back in, checked them for level and plumb, and then mixed the Quickcrete (portland cement, add water).

Then, after mixing 80 pounds (enough for one 22 inch sonotube) with 3/4 gallons of water, I put the concrete in the tube. What you want to do is perform a quick slump test, to see if the 'crete is right. You put some in a bucket, and turn it over like a sandcastle. If it slumps a little, but doesn't lose all shape, it is the right consistency. Here I am in the middle of mixing and pouring:


Then I inserted the threaded rod, which is about 12 inches long with a curved end at the bottom, and the threaded bit at the top, in the center of the filled sonotube. I wanted to leave 4.5 inches above the concrete, so that I could use at least 3 inches of lumber as blocking (two 2x4s), or even three layers of blocking with a countersunk hole. Here I am, measuring the rod:


Then, I repeated this process three more times. The hardest bits were physically carrying and mixing the concrete, and keeping the tubes plumb and level. I also noticed that sometimes I had extra in an 80 pound bag, and sometimes was a couple inches short, which is odd since I cut the tubes exactly the same height. But there may have been some seepage at the edges of the paver, or I just lost some as I was dumping it in. Who knows? Anyway, I got them all in, here they are:


Finally, because I didn't know what the weather would be like tonight, and because it's common practice with slabs, I put plastic over the finished tubes, and weighted the plastic with rocks. It takes 24 hours to cure enough to build on, and it takes about 7 days to cure completely. Next stop: deck framing!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How to! Part 1

It's good for me to continue to do carpentry. It keeps me grounded. I'm really not the same person on a jobsite as I am in writing. It's like Mad Jack and Siegfried Sassoon: I must cultivate the internal division.

Anyway, I agreed to do a screened-porch for odd neighbor Tina. It's really an addition to her playhouse, which is for her and her two sick pomeranians (don't ask!). So I decided I'd better make footings, since I'm not sure the playhouse is at all well connected to the ground, and I don't want to risk the porch blowing away. So I did the preliminary work today, and took some pictures of it, which I'm going to post and narrate, "This Old House" style. Oh, Tommy, won't you come over to my house? Anyway...

First, here is the site. It is really only about six by six feet, so it clearly can't compete with the 60,000 square foot buildings we used to do--but it's also my first 100% solo project, so I guess I'll not be too hard on me. So here's the site:


Next, I had to dig some holes. For the foundation, I decided on sonotubes filled with concrete. Underneath each sonotube is a flat rock or paver. Since I didn't want to be digging until judgement day (which is only in September for us Jews!) I decided to cut my four-foot tubes into two-foot tubes. I want to leave enough height to put rebar in with a threaded rod at the end, so that I can bolt right into the deck framing. This saves me from having to rent a hammer drill to bolt into the concrete. So here are my preliminary holes, with one sonotube sticking out, as a test:


Then, I wanted to get a sense of how much further I ought to dig each hole, so I put all the tubes in, and tested for level using a 2x4 and my four-foot level on each side, and on the diagonals. Ideally, if there is a difference, the slope should be down and away from the house. I was going for about 1/4 inch difference, if any:


Good work, kid! Very, very close. I then had to widen the holes a bit, to put the pavers in them, and tomorrow I will be putting the sonotubes back in, over the pavers, and mixing the concrete. I'm a little nervous about this part, since I've never done it before. After the concrete is set--then will be the easy part!!


Friday, March 27, 2009

Trip recap in Chinese

Wǒ qù nánbù.
I went south.

Lǚxíng chíxùle sāngè xiǎoshí.
The trip lasted three hours.

Tā shì lèqù.
It was fun.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

At the Birches

Here I am, in Amherst, taking in the great little town here (there is a bookstore on every corner! I saw books I've never seen!). Found Hebrew and Chinese children's blocks in the toy store, and language shower curtains. And in the store next door, "barbie skulls." I bought one as a present!

Oh, and UMass. Riiight. That's why I'm here. I stopped off in Greenfield as I was driving down, and I saw the most enormous, beautiful train trestle, but I had no camera. It looked great and sad there, in the drizzle. There were also some cool storefronts in decay and a few disintegrating motel signs. And it was a good day for picture taking too, alas. Greenfield is a little depressed, but I saw some signs of life on main street there, even so--I mean it was busy, and there were some new and interesting businesses. Amherst, of course, is bustling and so is Northhampton, where Smith is I guess, which explains why--college towns. I think Northhampton is where my mom and I sang "Le Bourgeois," as we meandered down the street, but my memory could be failing too:
"Le bourgeois, all are very dumb,
the older that they get, the dumber they become!
Le bourgeois, what a bunch of pigs,
one of them is bald, and the other two wear wigs!"
(Rod McKuen's translation of Jacques Brel)

Springfield has some nice low-end houses, and also a couple of REALLY SWEET studios, if they last. It is a lot to think about. Meanwhile, I will have to try to find parking on campus tomorrow and then find History. Needless to say, it won't be the same as moving quietly through Wieboldt, through Harper, into Social Sciences, and then hovering around the second floor offices or running your hand against the paneling in 122 (?). But you can't go home again. And in any case, it would not be home any longer. It would be missing a person I love.

"I went there uncertainly, for it was foreign ground and there was a tiny, priggish, warning voice in my ear which [...] told me it was seemly to hold back. But I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city." (EW)

Phrase of the day (and no, I'm not over it yet):
Wǒde zìxíngchē shì tài fùzáde.
My bicycle is too complicated.
(I'm not sure if it really calls for "de" at the end, but I'll risk it.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Work and play

Driving down to Amherst tomorrow. Just for a quick lookaround, and maybe to schedule to sit in on a class, though I'm nervous about asking. Also to get a look at the neighborhoods. There are (weirdly) a lot of homes in the low 100s in Holyoke and Springfield, and I don't just mean the crackhouses! Though maybe they are next-door to the crackhouses, thus my exploratory mission.

I promised to build a screen-porch addition to Tina-next-door's playhouse, which is actually a doggie playhouse, which she likes to sit and have her tea in. No, not kidding! The dogs are very sickly, and she tells me they cannot touch the ground, but they now have the vet seal of approval to breathe the outdoor air I guess, so she wanted, you know, pressure treated decking, and screens, and a door, and presumably a roof to match the original playhouse, and if I want to get gingerbready with the trim, that's fine.

It actually is more work than it seems, because I have to dig holes, fill concrete sonotubes for footings, put a bolt in each, and then I can frame the actual building. And then comes the other hard part--the roofing and the screening, which I've never done. And building a door. I told them I could not dig until the ground was softer, but she cut me a check already. Yeesh! I told her to wait!

Important phrase of the day:
Wǒde māo zuò wǒde tóu.
My cat sits on my head

Monday, March 23, 2009

I am not crazy to want a one-speed mountain bike...

...and yet, the people at Old Spokes Home looked at me like I'd got early-onset dementia. Anyway, they tell me there's nothing wrong with my blasted 21 speeds, except that I know I have some gear slippage (even in what is ostensibly first gear), which is not fun when you're trying to pedal standing up, going up a hill.

I got a temporary job with the census. Am I crazy not to apply for the historic preservation job in Alaska this summer? It's just that if I have to move to the Amherst area in August, I won't have any time left at all to enjoy my house, and given the extreme downward spiral of the world in general, perhaps this is the only and last house I will ever own before I die, so there. And all readers and/or non-readers who were invited to come visit me, well, so ends your chance. I think in my case there is a negative correlation in terms of how advanced my degree is, versus how much I get paid and how much respect I happen to receive on the job. So, as far as I can determine, when I finish my PhD, I will be living in a box by the river, "the forgotten [wo]man."

Speaking of PhDs... Finally, the U of C has posted the (long overdue) feature on Guy Alitto, the University's best professor, according to this reliable news source (me). You can read it here. But be sure to watch the video too. You get to hear Ai Kai speaking Chinese, and I especially like his colloquial use of "ai-ya," (哎呀!) in his classic Chicago Bulls story. 我惦您,尤其您的故事。 艾恺,请拜访绿色山!

I thought, yesterday, that if I had to prepare a lecture-in-a-box (you know, a 15 to 30 minute presentation for interview purposes), it might do to make it something like "Basic House Framing." I could easily discuss wall framing, layout, the difference between western and balloon frame, subfloor installation, and possibly get into roof pitches and rafter cuts. I thought this might be a good subject that most academics don't know--and then I thought, "boy, I could get myself into trouble if there's a diehard do-it-yourselfer on a faculty." I'm anticipating someone who shuns Advantech as a subfloor (although why you wouldn't be on the Advantech bandwagon I don't know), or has some alternative terminology for things (like in Florida they call a reciprocating saw (Sawzall) a "Zawsall."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Focus group

I attended a focus group for four hours the other night; it paid $100. And I have to say, I got more out of it than just the cash. For the last few months, I've been reading articles submitted to PHN--reading them for grammatical and APA errors, mostly, but also for content. And in them, there is a lot of analysis of focus group interviews. The focus group has been used mostly for qualitative research, but also for clinical concepts and other types of papers. And I was beginning to think no one knew how to ask meaningful questions, and eke out answers that went beyond the bland or general.

And then I signed up for this focus group. Now, this was for the purposes of a courtroom case (criminal) which will be held in VT in the next year, I presume. So I won't say much about the case, but... The focus group was led by an out-of-state attorney consultant named Jim Lees, who impressed me very much. At first, second and third glance, he appears genial and disarming. Yet he is a brilliant questioner.

And I suspect that while this has something to do with his West Virginia home, I also think this is a great attribute for a trial lawyer. To be unassuming, non-committal, even friendly--until it is time for the counter-attack. He has a flair for asking incisive questions, remembering names and keeping the discussion flowing, non-stop. I can see why he does this job. Anyway, it all began with some introduction to the focus group (generally--what is a focus group, no specifics) some paperwork about our background and a confidentiality agreement (which I have no intention of breaking).

We introduced ourselves, and he asked questions of each of us, with humor, and then he asked about the local economy. He would ask specific people, remembering details about their lives from the introductions (there were 12 of us). Then, he asked us about health care. I had guessed that the case in question would be a civil case, based on some of the questions about money, compensation and frivolous lawsuits. But as we got deeper into the health care discussion, I began to see that it was no civil case.

He asked things like, "what do you expect from a doctor/practitioner?" "What could be improved upon?" "Do you (specific person) have a problem with examination by a female doctor?" and so on, and then, "what would you define as the hip?" "what would be an appropriate examination of the hip?" "how would you define consent?" "is it fair to file a complaint a day after something happens, even if you didn't speak up at the event?" and more! And we had not yet heard anything about the case, but I was beginning to get a clearer idea. He used a combination of direct questioning, (us) writing things down and then reading them, and us writing and then folding the paper and giving it to him. He made sure to get around the room, quickly and efficiently; no one was allowed to dominate discussion, and quiet people were asked specific questions.

We took a break (and I should mention that this was not taped, but there were three people taking notes in the room--all in all a very expensive focus group: 36 total participants ($3600) plus hiring the note-takers ($$) and Jim Lees' fees for the ultimate report. This creates the problem of fairness, since I'm sure a poor defendant could not have afforded this) and when we came back, the case was introduced.

We heard the details of the case--slowly (it has not been widely publicized, probably because VT is very small) because as he was talking about the case, he asked us questions about our perceptions and prior knowledge: how did we understand this specialty? Did any of the facts in the biography raise questions, and why? What did we perceive happened based on the charges, and what did we want to know?

He then played a tape (a wiretap), which was awkward to listen to, and I didn't want to meet anyone's eyes, I think, and instead--so as to focus only on the tape, and not on any reactions--I doodled on my paper, looking down. Then he asked us whether we felt the recording was damaging, and why. We talked about the tape, and the charges, and we were free to ask questions--and there were many, because there were a fair amount of details to be discussed. Lees answered them to the best of his ability, and then we had to make a judgement on the charges based on what we had heard. I have no idea what the end results were, since they were private, but I imagine they were mixed. Or so I would think--I felt like I might have been an outlier in the group, but perhaps not. Everyone, regardless of education level, took this very seriously and were earnest and thoughtful in their responses.

My guess is, though he could not say, the report was commissioned for the defense, and not for the state, though I could be wrong. I will be very interested to see how the case is resolved. At any rate, THAT is a focus group.

Sunday, March 01, 2009