We Got Tomatos!

We have tomatos! Heather and I planted 4 “Sweet 100″‘s, 2 Beefsteak and 4 “Early Ripe” tomatos this spring and over the past week or so we’ve been getting a lot of ripe tomatos. What’s amazing is, what’s pictured is just a small batch of what’s coming. I don’t know what the 100 means in the Sweet 100’s, but I suspect it’s the yield from each plant.

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I also planted some Serano peppers, which sadly did not make it.

Heather planted some pumpkins, which we’ll be reporting on sometime in September/October.

Are you growing anything this year? If so, what’s coming out of your soil?

Garden 2009 phase 1 completed

Phase one of our first garden is complete. I made a 12 ft x 4 ft garden bed out of scrap cedar pickets, yard spikes, and plastic fencing. The first of 2 rows has a small variety of tomatoes. Phase 2 I have sereno peppers I’m nursing in the house. I actually have about 30+ sereno peppers nursing, I’ll be picking the 8 best to plant in the garden next weekend.

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Heather planted 2 other tomato baskets, an up side down tomato plant from TV, plus a basket of strawberries.

In the section picture, check out the simple door I made, all I have to do is pickup the top support over the braces held back by some praces along the parallel rails and lay it down on the ground. Makes it easy to get in/out of the garden.

Home Improvements for March 2009

Dresser from IkeaWe’ve been making some home improvements this month. In the past couple weeks we replaced most of our door knobs, installed new door hinges and added two new night stands to our master bedroom.

The door knobs in the house are complete junk. When we first moved in, we had 2 doors that had a sticky feeling when trying to open them. When I finally took the door knobs apart to see what the problem was, I had myself a pile of plastic pieces from inside the door. From observation, I think we were lucky the door knobs even worked. When I replaced the door knobs, we purchased new nickle plated ones that had a very modern look. We purchased the house brand sold at Lowes which use metal (rather than plastic) mechanical parts inside. 2 years later, 10 of our doors still have old worn gold plated door knobs. So this month we replaced 6 more of the door handles, leaving 4 more left to do next month.

20090331211737Since we had our baby in January, we’re both finding that our squeaky door hinges are very annoying when either of us wake up in the middle of the night. So last weekend we got new nickle plated hinges to match our nickle plated door knobs. When I first started installing the new hinges, I did it by hand. After 2 doors, a light bulb went off and I grabbed the cordless drill. The process of replacing the hinges went from taking just over an hour a door to about 10 minutes a door. I’m almost done, I need 6 more hinges and 2 door stops to complete the project.

Last are the new night stands. Our master bedroom is rather wide, mainly because we have a queen size bed. At Ikea night stands are pretty small and also low to the ground. So we ended up getting their smallest dresser to use as our night stands. They’re at the perfect height for our bed and fill our space perfectly. If we ever get a King size bed these night stands may be a problem but for now they’re great!

We love the nickle finish and we’re eventually going to replace everything that has a gold finish with the nickle finish. Luckily, the door hinges, knobs and other finishing items are the same price as the gold plated ones. We’re certainly not using bronze or chrome!

Ohio Wind Storm September 2008

If you haven’t herd, our house was one of the many casualties of the Wind Storm that blew through Ohio this past Sunday. No one was hurt, but the roof on the house got a pretty good beating. Our power was out from about 5pm that Sunday and was restored at about 9pm Monday evening. We were without power for about 28 hours. Just about everything but the pop and water in the frig is marked for the trash.

The storm also damaged a fence gate and blew off one of the rails to our deck. Many other homes in the neighborhood have similar or worse damage.

Sunday night was very interesting, before the sun went down Heather and gathered all of our flash lights and candles, got our small gas grill out of the garage and figured out how to open the garage while the power was out.

On Monday, Heather navigated through the city of broken stop lights and got to work. I spent the first half of the day fixing the fence gate and putting together the baby change table. Once I ran out of things I could do without power, I took the laptop to my Brother-n-law’s office and got myself caught up on email. When Heather and I got home around 6pm, there was still no power so we went out for dinner. Finally at about 9pm, the power was restored!

Our neighbor had to get a gas generator in order to keep their sump pump powered. Though we don’t have a water issue under our home, our dependence on electricity from the grid hit home pretty hard. We’ve decided that we don’t want this to happen to us again. Over the next 3 months, we’re going to make an investment into purchasing solar panels and battery packs for both situations like these and they can be used for camping/traveling.

I did some math and discovered that our cable modem uses roughly 2 Watts and my laptop uses roughly 75 Watts. In a pinch, it would not take much in order to power just these two items. I did some research, it looks like I can get a battery pack and some solar panels to charge the battery for less than $500. It’s a start, though not a complete power replacement for all of the electronics and lights in the house. I’m also ordering a Kill A Watt device to monitor the Watts used by certain devices in the home so in the future we have a good idea what we can and cannot power through a solar system.

Another item I’m going to be ordering soon is a solar USB charger. You can find these on Ebay. Anything that you own that can be charged plugged into a USB port of a computer can use a solar USB charger. Both heather and I have a USB charging cable for our cell phones, which would have been very useful for us this past weekend.

How did the wind storm impact your home? Were you prepared for the power outage? Are you taking steps like I am to be less dependant on electricity from the grid?

Columbus Ohio Internet Usage Unknowningly Monitored for Profit

I just found out my Internet Service Provider (ISP) called WOW Internet and Cable has been monitoring our web traffic since March of 2008 for profit. The monitoring takes place by installing hardware made by NebuAds within the ISP’s network, WOW Internet in my case. Web traffic from WOW Internet customers (like me) is routed through these hardware devices for tracking. The data (html, javascript, images, etc…) that customers like myself request from web sites such as Google could be modified in order to display targeted advertising. According to DSLReports, WOW cable (and other NebuAds clients) can make at least $2.50 a month per customer.

I was made aware of this by a local TV station here in Columbus, Ohio.

When I spoke with WOW today, they informed me that I was recently made aware of this change when they sent me a notice in the mail of recent change in the terms of service. Like any trusting customer, I did not read the fine print. The notice did not come with a cover letter explaining what part of the notice changed and/or why. See Third Party Advertisers section of WOW Internet Terms.

Notice that in the WOW Internet Terms they created an acronym for “Personally Identifiable Information” as “PII”. The way the acronym is written in the sentence it implies that it encompasses other items. Make no mistake, they clearly state that PII is your name, address and phone number and nothing else. They do not state that IP addresses are PII. In my opinion, your IP address on the Internet is just as personally identifiable as your telephone number or street address. An IP address identifies you on the Internet so data knows where to be directed over the entire World Wide Web. The same can be said about telephone calls and snail mail. Apparently WOW does not believe that your IP address on the Internet is considered “personally identifiable information” even though IP addresses have been continually used to identify individuals and is commonly added to header information of many Internet protocols such as email and web browsing.

Users may opt out of the service on a per browser bases using cookies. This means that anytime I decide to switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox, Opera, Safari or another computer for that matter, I have to remember to follow a procedure (that I currently do not know) to add a cookie to each browser I use to turn this tracking off. Further more, I now have to do this for every computer in my home and for anyone who visits who uses my Internet. This means that browsers used in my home must support cookie handling, removing my choice (or anyone else in my home’s choice) of turning off cookies in web browsers. For 3rd party applications (Non web browsers) that use the Internet (such as to download or check for product updates) will continue to be tracked by WOW.

WOW Internet is the 12th largest Cable provider in the United States. WOW has been using NebuAds to profit from its customers since March/April of 2008. For the past three months, WOW has made more than $7 from myself alone. I have yet to see any savings passed onto my bill. It appears this $2.50 is an additional revenue stream for WOW and is not something they are using to pass savings to their customers in exchange for invading their privacy.

The 3rd largest cable provider, Charter Communications, recently decided not to use the NebuAds service to make money from its customers. Charter decided to abandon the practice following the release of a report that caught the interest of the United States Congress into the legalities of the adveritsing targeting mechanisms.

The most upsetting aspect of this whole thing for me personally, is that I’ve discovered that this tracking is known to cause problems with Google Gmail. I use Gmail and Gmail for my domains and have come to rely heavily on Google’s Gmail service. Since March I have experienced issues with Gmail and for the longest time have presumed Gmail was the problem. Now that I know that my ISP, that I’ve been paying over $100 a month to provide me reliable access to the Internet, may have been the cause of the problems I’ve been experiencing with Gmail frustrates me greatly. I’ve lost a lot of time and productivity with the problems I have had with Gmail. Email is a vital service, especially for someone who requires not only for tracking and paying bills but for employment and work as well.

I’ve called and notified WOW that they will have to contact me in 7 days to let me know that they will no longer be tracking my Internet and have stopped modifying my Internet traffic. Otherwise I will switch to another ISP. They have until July 7th to resolve this issue, or they will loose me as a customer. If after July 7th, they do not rectify this problem with their service, I will contact federal, state and local government representatives in my area of WOW’s shady practices, notify my neighbors what WOW is doing with their Internet usage, and make it a point to NOT recommend WOW for Internet services.

WOW, you have 168 hours. What is your answer?

UPDATE (GREAT NEWS)

WOW cable called me today (Thursday) at about 4pm to let me know that they are removing the NebuAds for all of their customers! I no longer need to switch ISPs! What an emotional roller coaster but unlike some businesses apparently WOW does listen to its customers. I’m going to stick with WOW now that they will no longer deploy this questionable intrusion of advertising in my web surfing.

As soon as I have a press release to link to I’ll create a new blog post about it.

Cedar Picket Fence Completed!

Fence Completed 1The fence is finished! What an experience. Today I put together the gates and replaced a couple damaged pickets. The fence was pretty much done last weekend aside from the gates.

Fence Completed 2This was a true learning experience. For those thinking about putting up your own fence, I recommend putting the project into prospective. How ever long you think the project will take, quadruple that number. I thought the fence could be put up over a 2 day weekend, it’s taken one 3 day weekend and two and a half 2 day weekends to get the fence done. Granted, I spent a lot of time leveling each picket and using screws instead of nails. I think a nail gun would have shaved 1 day off the project. Had we not run into WOW’s cable line a number of times while digging, I think we would have saved 1/2 a day digging holes too.

Anyway, fence is up and it looks great!

Fence for Dog – Phase 1 Complete

Fence 1Last week Heather and I received our Federal tax incentive check and decided to go ahead with getting a fence for the backyard. We wanted a dog eared 4′ wood fence to match our neighbors which we plan to connect our fence to.

So here’s the story. We got a quote from Lowes a little over a month ago to have the fence installed. They quoted us about $1,200 for treated pine lumber plus labor, roughly $2,500. So moving forward with the idea that materials would be about $1,200, we decided to install the fence ourselves.

As the process moved forward, I did some research on some home improvement web sites and found that the treated pine tended to warp, split, crack, etc.. over time. From observing our 15 year old treated pine deck, I do believe these home improvement web sites are right. So I decided to go with red cedar since it has a better reputation for holding up with minimal shrinking, cracking, cracking, etc… So now the material expenses are up near $1,600.

We wanted to match our neighbors fence as closely as possible. Both Home Depot and Lowes only sell 6″ dog ear pickets, which doesn’t match our neighbors 4″. After making some calls, I was recommended to call Sutherlands. After a quick call with them, I found that all for the materials for the project were priced competitively and they have 4″ red cedar dog ear pickets too. So I ordered all the materials on Wednesday, everything arrived that Friday.

The first step in installing the fence was to dig the post holes. I called 811 on Wednesday afternoon to get the utilities marked in the back yard. On Friday, I rented an auger from Home Depot with a 10″ bit to drill 10-12″ post holes. It took my brother-n-law and I about an hour to drill one 30″ hole with the 10″ bit. We kept hitting rocks in the ground which made the process take a lot longer than it otherwise would have. The whole was between 12-15″ wide. We decided to get a 6″ bit for the auger after starting hole number 2. An hour later, we got the smaller bit in, and started drilling the holes faster, though by hole 4, we didn’t just have rocks to deal with. We hit an unmarked coax cable in the ground. After further examining ,we determined the cable was for Time Warner Cable to my house. I’m currently a WOW customer, so we decided to just keep going on our path.

Fence 3We then started drilling our holes across the back of the property. This is where the real fun started. At our 4th of 9 holes, we hit the main WOW cable. It was marked about 2 feet from where the cable was actually in the ground! Needless to say, we knocked out cable service for the rest of the neighborhood. In the process of waiting for WOW to come fix their cable, we started remarking the fence 3 feet from the back of the property line since we no longer trusted the markings. As the WOW repairmen came to fix the line, we started drilling our remaining posts on the new 3 foot back line. Just as the WOW folks left, we were finishing the last hole and discovered their line again. This time, we were 5 feet away from the closest marking on the ground. luckily we caught it before the auger tore through the cable.

Fence 4The rest of the weekend Heather’s dad, my dad set posts and mixed concrete. On Sunday we only got 2 posts completed mixing the concrete by hand. On Monday, we rented a concrete mixer, thankfully Home Depot Rents was open that day! If you have more than 4 bags of Quikrete to mix, I highly suggest renting a mixer. It cost about $45 and was worth every penny.

On Monday, Heather’s dad and I got the remaining posts set and concrete poured, except for the remaining hole where we discovered the WOW cable a second time. Heather’s dad did a great job setting the posts, they are very level and plumb with each other.

On Tuesday afternoon, the WOW folks returned, tested their line and decided to replace the portion of the line where I found their main cable. Once the guy left, I hand digged another foot beyond the cable line to reach 30″ for the last post. This manual digging was a pain and I believe resulted in seriously hurting my back. Then I plumbed up the post, mixed the concrete and set the post just before the sun came down.

Fence Posts 1On Wednesday, I returned the extra materials (3 posts, 8 bags gravel, 4 bags Quickrete) I purchased as well as exchanged 20+ pickets that I discovered were damaged from the original delivery. That evening, Heather and I returned the truck (we’re on our own now).

This morning I did some clean up and removed the remaining braces holding up the posts. Phase 1 complete!

Next weekend my dad and I will be working on phase 2, which includes installing the runners and the pickets. Dad has a pretty nice wireless drill, so this process should go rather quickly. The red cedar pickets are rather fragile though, I am planning on pre-drilling the holes for the screws, but besides that the picket installation should go as quick as any other picket fence.

Materials

  • 19 4x4x8′ red cedar posts
  • 32 2x4x8′ red cedar rails
  • 6 2x4x12′ red cedar rails
  • 310 4″x4′ red cedar dog ear pickets
  • 2 self closing spring hinge gate kits
  • 2 5lb boxes 1-5/8″ cedar screws
  • 1 5lb box 3″ cedar screws
  • 24 80lb Quickrete
  • $10 scrap lumber for plumbing up posts
  • 36 lawn stakes
  • 2 day Auger rental from Home Depot
  • 1 day concrete mix rental from Home Depot
  • A lot of patience

Conclusion

Fence Posts 2I’m never installing a fence myself again. Installing a fence is a lot of work and full of obstacles that cannot be foreseen. Looking back, it may have been worth $2,500 to have someone else do it, though I will have to say that I don’t think the installers would have put this much care for quality as we are.

Update!

The fence is complete. Read more.