Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

7/24/2010

Al Fresco

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:45 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

We take modern plumbing for granted.

No, seriously.
I’ve spent the better part of this past week without a sewer connection.  That means that I’ve been pestering my friends who live nearby, all three of them, for showers all week.  It also means I’ve been urinating “al fresco”, under the cover of darkness.  Let’s not ask too many questions about other bodily functions though, okay?  Let’s just say I’ve been going into work early most days this week.

My point is, plumbing is what makes civilization even more than farming.
In school, they always taught us that modern civilization, as we know it, started with farming.  They taught us that as people stayed to tend crops instead of follow the herds, they built permanent camps which became villages which, eventually, became cities.
I would argue, however, that real modern civilization was born when the Romans first got the idea to enclose their plumbing.  When that first, genius Roman city planner decided to put sewers underground and replace the foul stench of open trenches, which had been the norm until then, and replace that malodorous tradition with construction projects, civilization as we know it truly began.
And brought with it a host of modern problems.

In my case, the problem was one I initially tried to handle myself.
When the shower first backed up, thanks to several loads of laundry, I poured all kinds of hazardous and noxious chemicals down the drains.  I bought and used things that were so terrible, so dire that the warnings printed on the packaging sounded more like plans to deal with a spill in a chemical plant than something the average Home Depot shopper should be screwing around with in their bathroom.  In fact, these things were so bad at one point that leather gloves which had accidentally gotten soaked in water containing some of those chemicals actually started to melt away.  Seriously.  I have pictures!  And, I thought all was well.  For about two weeks.
That’s when the shower started to back up when I was, well, running the shower.
So, for three days, I took what we used to call “Navy showers“.  Basically, I got wet, then turned off the water and lathered up, then turned the water back on just long enough to rinse off.  I’m sure it helped the planet with all the water I conserved, but it was starting to get a little uncomfortable.  So, off I went to Home Depot to buy supplies.  I bought even more chemicals, a CO2-based plunger, and a plumber’s “snake”.  I used them in turn, spending the most time trying to get the snake working right.  It was one that you hooked up to a drill, to add extra power, and, though I hate to admit it, I screwed the first one up bad enough that I broke it.  Unfortunately, none of that worked.

So, defeated, I called a plumber Sunday afternoon.
I called Mr. Rooter, because I’d used them before and I knew they didn’t charge extra for working on the weekend.  I also knew they did good work at what I think is a reasonable price.  Sadly, there wasn’t anyone available in my area by the time I called Sunday afternoon, which meant waiting until the next morning, but I figured what was one more night wallowing in my own filth?
Well, the plumbing technician showed up early Monday morning and got right to work.  He ran through at least three obstructions and at one point I could hear things gurgling in my bathroom, which seemed an encouraging sign.  Sadly, it was not.  The technician called me out into the yard where he found the only “clean-out” in my line.  A clean-out, incidentally, that was far, far further out than it should have been.  He’d run his camera down that line and found the problem, or, at least, the first problem.  I feared the worst, but my fears turned out to be child’s play compared to what was actually wrong.

The problem was roots.
Not roots that had grown through the pipes, as I had feared, but roots that had grown under the pipe and lifted a thirty foot section of it.  Lifted it so high, in fact, that it made my shower the lowest point in my personal sewer system.  So, yes, it was a big problem.
The other two problems were with the main sewer.  First, when they built the house, apparently, a builder took a short-cut and lifted my sewer connection to link it up with the city sewer main.  So, it was higher than it should have been in the first place!  But, to make matters worse, when the guys from Mr. Rooter went to make the connection, the found the city main choked with roots!  I love the live oaks in my backyard, and, in fact, they’re part of why I bought the house with my ex-wife, but they certainly seemed out to get me this week.  In the end, there was really only one thing to do: replace the whole sewer line to the city main.

Now, for those of you who aren’t homeowners, let me tell you how this feels.
Imagine being neck deep in a mucky, fetid swamp, trying not to make waves because you know it could drown you.  Got that?  Do you have a handle on the perilous and uncomfortable feeling of knowing you’re inches from sucking stagnant water up your nose and suffocating on swamp muck?  Great.  Now imagine that someone is throwing stones at you.  Stones big enough to knock you unconscious.  Imagine having to hold your breath while that water with God only knows what kind of diseases in it is lapping at your mouth and nose, trying to find its way into your lungs.  Can you feel the horrible panic?  Can you feel your chest tightening from the fear of drowning in a sloppy, green sea of homeowner’s debt?  Fantastic.  Now imagine looking up and seeing one of those stones on a collision-course with your head.  You know it’s coming and you can already feel the lump forming even as your gut tightens because you’re about to be fighting for consciousness so you don’t drown, alone, in this swamp.
That was pretty much how I felt when the tech told me what was wrong.

His estimate was not much more reassuring.
Let’s just say it started somewhere over $10K.  In the end, because the folks at Mr. Rooter are fantastic, caring, decent human beings who haven’t lost their humanity in this tight economy, I ended up owing less.  I won’t say how much less, but, less than the original $10K.  Still an impressive sum for which I needed a lot of help.
Sadly, the finance company was less caring and more cut-throat.  I won’t give them any free advertising by mentioning their name, but I will say that, until dealing with them, I thought loan-sharking was illegal.  Apparently, not if you do it right.  Thankfully, I had some benefactors who were willing to lend me the money I needed at lower rates.  They’ve asked to remain nameless, otherwise I’d sing their praises, too.

In any case, I got enough money together to get them started and WOW, did they!
The next afternoon, there was a crew of four guys digging up my backyard with a small backhoe.  They dug a trench easily 120 feet from the back of my house, around my ponds, between my trees and to the city sewer main at the back of my yard.  I took pictures of it because words leave the spectacle of the thing,well, in the dust.  This trench started out about three feet deep and got down to almost five feet deep near the sewer main.  It runs at least four feet deep for a significant portion of it’s length and was dug in less time than it’s taken to write this entry.  It was amazing!  If not for the roots in the city sewer main, I’d have had service restored that first night!  Unfortunately, the rest took longer.
The city did come out the next day to clear the roots and make the connection to the city sewer main, but, by then I’d had to make a nuisance of myself with friends to beg showers so I could get into work and not knock people out.  I didn’t shave, really, but used my beard trimmer to keep my stubble under control.  Still, I looked pretty rough by the end of the week.
And, yes, I really did get tired of “urination al fresco” and holding it until dark, or going in to work hours early for the same reason.

So, the good news is, now, I have a working sewer line and I can flush my toilets!  Not to mention shower, shave, do laundry and dishes, all of which I was frantically doing Thursday night.  Friday afternoon, the main technician who was working on this project the entire time, got my second toilet hooked up, so everything in the house should be working now.  I still have the trench until the city inspects and approves the work according to the permit.  I’m not as worried about that, frankly, since I’m able to bathe and eliminate with the modern ease with which I have rather grown accustomed.
Other good things of come of it, too, though.  Some I won’t got into in detail except to say that I have a new appreciation for my friends and family who were all more than willing to come to my aid.  I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, at how willing everyone I knew was to help.  Since my divorce, I have felt pretty alone down here in Texas, so it was nice to be reminded that I did have friends and, though they may be a little way away, family who really do care.

I also really was reminded about how well I live, really, and how comfortable I am.  That’s sort of a double-edged sword, though, as I’ve gotten, I think, a little too comfortable with things that really needed to change.  I’ve gotten a little stuck and a little complacent.  My financial situation, for instance, has been just good enough for me to not really feel the need to really grab hold and make some positive changes.  I’ve just gone “with the flow”, if you’ll pardon the metaphor in a post about sewers, for far too long.  I need to relearn to set my sails and make my way regardless of the current.

Of course, I do still have a huge bill to pay before I’m done, but that may turn out to be a good thing, too, since it’s finally motivated me to actually start selling my ex-wife’s abandoned jewelry.  Yes, I have finally listed my first item on eBay.  In this case, it’s my ex-wife’s gold and ruby ring.  If you’re interested, go bid on it and help me out!  Don’t worry, stalkers, there will be more items if you want to own a piece of the Network Geek’s history.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
   --Franklin Delano Roosevelt

9/5/2008

Panic Room

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Life Goals,Red Herrings,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:32 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Make yourself a safe room.

Hurricane season is upon us. Do you have a safe place to weather any storms in your house? Well, if DuPont has their way, you will. They’ve got this new system/product/”thing” that they’re rolling out to the public with the help of the Home Depot called the DuPont™ StormRoom™ with KEVLAR®. It’s for both new construction and existing homes, though I’d imagine a retrofit would be much, much more expensive. And, if you add optional plumbing, they say you can use this space as a “panic room”, too.

Years ago, I bought a book about doing this yourself called the Secure Home. At the time, of course, my ex-wife thought I was crazy for even thinking about it, but now, here’s a big company who’s doing it for a tidy profit.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A man is known by the company his mind keeps."
   --Thomas Bailey Aldrich

5/2/2006

Accidental Waterfall

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Hoffman's Home for Wayward Boys,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:57 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Oh, the joys of home-ownership!
So, Saturday night Ms. NewGal and I get home after being out to church, dinner and my favorite bookstore to find water running from somewhere under Doc’s car. Now, I don’t mean a little trickle, but rather a fairly steady stream of water, as if the hose had been left on. And, in fact, that’s what I figured had happened. I walk over to turn off the hose, figuring that Doc had watered up front and just not quite turned the handle quite all the way closed. That’s when I saw the water shooting out of the wall. Yes, gushing right out of the brick around the pipe where it goes into the house. Keep in mind this is about 11:00PM, I’m tired and have no idea how much of this water is gushing into the space between the exterior brick and the interior wall. In short, I was not very happy.

Luckily, my girl was able to talk sense to me and remind me that there’s a reason I escrow home-owner’s insurance. So, we filled some buckets of water to use for flushing over night, just in case, and turned the water off at a handy valve that was in the line just before the leak. The next morning, I searched the Internet and she searched the Yellow Pages to find a plumber with “cheap” emergency rates who would come out on a weekend. She found Mr. Rooter, who I would have assumed was a tree-root specialist. Luckily, not only are they a full-service plumber, but they have multiple locations in Houston and don’t charge special rates for the weekend! I was absolutely shocked! I can’t remember the last time I heard about a plumber, electrician or anyone else like that who didn’t charge extra for weekend work.
The dispatcher got me on the list for that same day between 11:00am and 2:00pm, which was another miracle to me. Just before 2:00pm, Melvin, the plumbing “technician” showed up at my house to give me my estimate. Tall, thin and polite, Melvin was neatly dressed in a Mr. Rooter uniform and was quick with his slightly gap-toothed smile. He took a quick look and warned me that they didn’t replace brick, which he’d have to remove to get the work done. He did promise, however, to remove only as much brick as absolutely necessary to do the repair. His initial estimate was just under $500. I was so relieved, I almost cried. That’s less than my deductible on my home-owner’s insurance and about a third of what I was afraid it would cost to have someone out on a Sunday to get this fixed.

An hour later, Melvin was giving me an update on the status of my problem. He’d removed a single brick to get a better look at where the break had occurred. Again, luckily, it didn’t look like there was any water damage inside the house. The leak had happened inside the mortar and been forced out from that point. In fact, when I put my hand inside the small hole, it was bone dry. Someone “upstairs” was watching out for me again! (No, I don’t mean Doc, but the Big Guy.) So, at this point, Melvin had to go get some additional parts to make the connection like it was, only not leaking, which means a trip to Home Depot since the plumbing supply houses are all closed. It also meant an additional $240, which bumped my total to $700. Ouch! Still, it had to be done, so I sent him off to get what he needs. While I waited, though, Melvin bypassed the shut-off by the house to give me water so I could run the dishwasher, take a shower or just enjoy how civilized flush toilets really make me feel.

When he got back, I asked him what he thought caused the leak. He showed me the short piece of galvanized pipe he’d had to cut out and pointed out the crack in the threads. It was his opinion that something had to hit that pipe pretty hard to have made the crack. So, I’m not sure when it happened, but, most likely, someone tagged that valve earlier in the week and it just got worse over time until it finally popped out through the mortar. Sadly, at this point, there’s not really any way to know for sure who did it, so, I just have to eat the cost of all this.
Now, here’s where Melvin got to try out his salesmanship on me. He offered me a deal. I could take the $240 hit for the extra parts, or I could get the Mr. Rooter “Membership”, which gives me 15% off all work they do and annual sewer drain inspections and annual hot water heater drainage for the next five years. In exchange, he would apply the extra fees for the plumbing fixtures to the price of the membership, which was a wash. So, in essence, I got a five year 15% discount on plumbing work, which was already reasonable, and annual service and inspection for nothing. Not a bad deal, was it?
Melvin was done by about 5:00pm and getting my Amex number. He wore little booties into the house, so as not to track imaginary brick dust on my filthy, dog-hair-covered carpet. But, what amazed me was that his uniform hardly had a spot on it. Not even much dust on his navy work pants. The guy was good. Pretty damn fast, too, all things considered.

So, in short, I’ve never been happier to pay $700 I didn’t have to do a plumbing repair. After all, I could have had an entire wall come down or part of the ceiling or any of a number of terrible things. A guy I talked to later said that he had a plumbing problem in his attic once that had he and his wife out of the house for three months while they gutted it. So, yeah, it could have been a whole lot worse.
Oh, and I patched the brick myself. That was about another $20, or so, to get the trowel and the mortar patch from Home Depot. Not the most professional job, but quite sturdy this morning when I left for work. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, or read this blog, but I’ve actually done some of that kind of work before at my parent’s house. Oddly, this was something I learned from my father who repaired a front porch step. But, at the time, he’d never done it before. We figured it out together, he and I. And, I never thought it’d be a favorite childhood memory, but, well, as I was working that trowel last night, I thought of him and that day and smiled. I actually finished the job on the phone with him and my mother.
I’m pretty sure that was pride I heard in his voice when I reminded him of that day and told him that I’d learned enough to do this repair myself. And, that I’d had this potentially giant problem and had handled it without calling for help, or advice, or money.
I guess I’m growing up.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Unhappiness is in not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it."
   --Don Herold

8/3/2003

I’m getting good at this!

Filed under: News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:21 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Plumbing, that is.

Yeah, I was doing more plumbing this weekend. I had a shower upstairs, in my daughter’s bathroom, that had been running hot water for days, or weeks, before I noticed. I really don’t have any idea how long it had not been turning all the way off, but it’s been a while, anyway. I’d tried to get at it earlier in the week, but I couldn’t get stuff apart right and had to let it go until Saturday.
The kicker to working on this, though, is that I have to shut off the hot water to the whole house, because I can’t find the shutoff for just that shower. So, I waited until my wife got her shower then, I set to work. That was around noon. Several hours later, I managed to get the valve apart, but at the expense of obviously needing to replace the whole thing. *sigh* Well, that meant a trip to Home Depot. I got all my parts and got it together, only to find that the water was still running! So, I shut the whole thing down, again and open it up, again. This time, I shined a flashlight into the opening and found that there was an actual hole worn through the interior connection! Well, I guess I’m getting the hang of this stuff, because it occured to me that an O-ring would take care of that. And, I was right! It did!!
But, somewhere along the line, I managed to snap off the handle on the hot water shutoff at the water heater. That meant I had to buy a whole valve just to get the handle. And, the process of turning the hot water off and on seemed to knock loose some iron/calcium deposits, because my downstairs bathroom sink got clogged up. Grr! Of course, I took the whole stem valve apart before I figured out that it was the difuser that had gotten clogged. By this time, it was around 5:00pm and I was tired. So I quit for the day.
This morning, I discovered that I had missed a washer in that downstairs sink, which had kept the water running until I turned it off under the sink. So, I got that together and, lo and behold, it all worked! So, it might take me twice as long as a real plumber, but I do manage to get the job done!! Now, I have some fall-back skills if this whole computer thing doesn’t work out.
Of course, there’s always the lottery!

1/20/2003

Plumbing Adventures

Filed under: Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 8:48 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Fluid Networking!

Well, I was under the sink again this weekend. The kitchen sink this time, though, not the bathroom again. I replaced our old, leaking garbage disposal with a new, heavy-duty one horse-power InSinkErator Model 777S. And it rocks!
I got it Saturday from our local Home Depot, along with my new friend, Mr. Plumber’s Putty. I opened the package up and read through the directions, just so I knew how it was all going to go together.
Sunday morning, I got up early, for a Sunday, and found the circuit to cut off the disposal, after a little trial and error. Then, I was off to work. I started by disconnecting everything I could manage from the old disposal, except power. After banging on the old locking ring with a hammer for 20 minutes, I got the old disposal loose. Then, I set about trying to get the electrical connection off. In the end, it was so corroded that I just ripped off the metal plate that covered the connection. The rest was a matter of trimming and stripping wires. No problem.
Next, I pop the old mounting ring out of the sink and clean the hole up. At this point I discover the reason it was leaking was that there wasn’t any plumber’s putty left around the opening. No putty = No Seal! So, I smear a bunch of plumber’s putty around the hole and press the top part of the mounting ring into place. Now, I need some help holding that down while I get the bottom half of the mounting ring together. Luckily, my lovely assistant (aka My Wife) is there to help out.
So, now I muscle the new disposal into place and hook up the electric. Whoops! My first trip back to Home Depot for parts: wire nuts. Got to make sure there’s a good connection that’s nice and dry. Electro-convulsive therapy should never be an after dinner surprise!
Now to get the new disposal mounted on the bottom of the sink. It’s so heavy that I can just barely hold it up to the ring with both hands. Again, my lovely assistant is there to slide the mounting ring into a semi-locked position. I get it the rest of the way in.
Time to hook up the plumbing. The connection from the dishwasher is actually very easy. It’s just two wire hose-clamps. A couple turns of a screwdriver and that’s done. Next, the drain to the sewer. It seemed straight forward enough, but working in such tight quarters made it hard to get things tightened down. I thought I had it, reconnected power and ground some ice. No problems, so I figure I’m done. It was about 12:30pm. Not bad.
But, wait! A couple hours later, I go back and grind some actual food. Whoops! There’s a leak! And, not just a little “drip, drip” leak, but a steady stream. So, I’m back under the sink, cursing to make a sailor blush trying to tighten the locking nut. “POP” Out comes the 90 degree connection to the trap! Damn! So, I try and get that tight again, but to no avail. *sigh* More plumbing on Monday (today).
So, I was up around 9:00am again today. First, I tried to tighten down the 90 degree connection, but the PVC had actually been eaten away, so I couldn’t get a decent connection. I spent about 15 minutes on that before deciding to just replace the whole trap and connection to the inside sewer connection. Back to Home Depot. A few minutes later, I’m back home measuring and trimming my new PVC connection. A little plumber’s putty at every connection and a quick poke with my new sink auger and I connect everything back up.
Finally! Every-thing’s together and I’m grinding and running water for more than 30 minutes without a leak. So, while I’m filthy and feeling good about getting the work done, I clean out the nasty, ancient remains from our refrigerator. It’s looking great, but I check on leaks anyway. Uh-oh. Drip, drip, drip. So, it’s only a little and I figure I can tighten it down some more. I start running water and grinding some more. Finally, finally, it looks okay.
Later, when I was talking to my Dad about my plumbing adventures, he said that it might take weeks for it to finally tighten down under there. So, a cheap bucket is under there now. I’ll just have to keep my eye on it and make sure that nothing gets worse. If it does, I’ll just get some silicon sealant and “fix it real good”.

But, all that aside, I have to say that I a) love the feeling of accomplishment that I got from doing it myself and b) love the sound that super-quiet 1 horsepower disposal makes when it sucks down garbage. Cool.

1/2/2003

Plumbing

Filed under: Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:59 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

Should I add plumbing to my resume?

I’m so proud of myself, I almost feel like I should!
Yesterday morning, after dropping my wife and daughter off to start their adventure visting relatives in Brownsville, I started my own little plumbing adventure.
It all started several months ago, when our bathroom sink had a bit of a leak. Well, to be more accurate, our hot water wouldn’t turn all the way off. So, we had to use the shutoff valve underneath the sink. That was okay, as far as it goes, but when I went to get into the faucet valve to replace a washer, I couldn’t get it off. And I tried everything to get that sucker off, too. I tried three different kinds of wrenches and pliers before buying a RoboGrip, locking plier and even that wouldn’t do it! But, by this time, I had pretty well stripped the brass nut and it looked grim. So, since I was out of work and couldn’t afford a plumber if I screwed things up, I quit messing with it and we continued to use the shutoff valve under the sink.
Fast forward to about two months ago when even the shutoff valve wasn’t stopping the slow leak. It started as a slow, but steady drip and got worse. About three weeks ago, the drip had become a trickle. And two weeks ago, the “trickle” was so loud that we’d shut the door to the bathroom so we could hear the TV over it! So, I finally decided that I needed to do something about it. I figured that with my wife and daughter out of town any mess I made or chaos I caused would be undisturbed. Besides, they’d have been complaining about it if I were there. Or worse yet, one of them would have wanted to help! Besides, since the shutoff valve under the sink wasn’t working, I was going to have to turn off the hot water for the entire house.
Well, I tore into the faucet handle trying to get the valve out again with yet another set of wrenches, but it was no good. I called my Dad, who had retired some years back and worked in a hardware store to keep himself busy, and asked for some advice. After a few minutes of trying to describe what I was seeing, it rapidly became apparent that I was not going to get that valve assembly out without professional help. But, that was when Dad gave me the best advice ever. “Why not just replace the whole faucet? It’d be cheaper than a plumber.” After a minute of excited discussion and inspection of the connections under the sink, I’d decided to give it a go.
About 45 minutes later, I had the old faucet out, had sketched a rough template of the holes on the top of the sink and was on my way to Home Depot. I hunted up the vanity fixtures and found a likely faucet that seemed to fit my sink and aesthetic requirements, which were minimal. In short, I thought I had a faucet that wouldn’t horrify my wife. So, it was back home to figure out how to install the new faucet.
The brand was one I didn’t know, Pegasus, but it went in pretty well. The only strange thing was getting the rod that worked the stopper hooked up. I finally figured out that the last owner had to saw off the extra on one piece of that assembly, so it was off to the garage for the hacksaw. Then, I got the water hooked up and tested the cold water. It worked. Now, for the moment of truth, I turned the hot water on for the whole house again. No leaks yet. I turned the shutoff valve for the hot water all the way open. Still no leaks. Then, glory of glories, I turned on the hot water at the faucet and let it run. I nearly wept with joy. It worked. A final test of the stopper and viola! I had a working sink again.
I called my Dad again quick and told him the proud news. I could do plumbing in my own house! Then my Dad said, “And you were even finished before noon” with what sounded like genuine admiration in his voice. I was so pleased with myself that I could have just plotzed.

So, should I put plumbing on my resume now? Well, maybe not yet. I still have to replace our garbage disposal in the kitchen. Maybe next month. Or the month after that. When I’m feeling brave again.


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