FiOS Day 2 — post installation checklist

3128551594_2a367f7b7a_oWe have FiOS now. The installers from Verizon left at about 2:30 yesterday afternoon, with handsful of cookies from my wife and thanks from me. They started work about 10 am. In the four and a half hours (including a lunch break) in between, they:

  • Installed a new wall box (shown) to take the fiber from the street and convert its signal to TV, Internet, and phone
  • Ran phone, WAN, and coax into my media panel so that all existing phone, Ethernet, and cable hookups in the house worked
  • Leveraged the existing basement drop to connect the living room jack–the only one not already hooked into the media panel–into the media panel
  • Installed a new wireless base station
  • Ran fiber into the house and lit up the whole network
  • Pulled off the old copper line and house-side box

So: Now gone is all but the last remnant of Comcast. Their box is still on the side of the house, but the three splitters that were between their box and the wall are gone. The new TV signal goes directly from the fiber into my media wiring box and gets split once across the five live jacks in the house. No wonder the picture is better. The phone works well too.

On the other hand, I’m still working through some Internet issues. I couldn’t get my existing base station, an AirPort Extreme, to see the new base station, so I shut it down temporarily–taking my shared music drive offline. I also wasn’t able to get my two AirPort Express units, which provide networking for the printer and AirTunes to my living room stereo, hooked into the new network, but I suspect that’s easily fixed once I get a little dedicated time.

The punchline? Using the SpeakEasy speed test, I recorded up to about 19.5 Mbps down and about 4.9 Mbps up, at multiple times during the day. That’s comparable to the Comcast up rate but about twice as fast as Comcast down.

FiOS day

It’s an exciting day here at the Jarrett house. The new drop that I mentioned on Friday is a fiber drop. We’re in the middle of a Massachusetts snowstorm, with another three to six inches on top of the ten we got yesterday, and Verizon, God bless ’em, is in my driveway getting ready to run fiber into my basement.

Now that’s service. I don’t know what it says about their customer acquisition metrics and their incentive comp that this guy is willing to trudge around my house and do this, but whatever it is, Harvard or someone should write a case study about it, ’cause it’s working.

What do I get with fiber? One line that replaces cable and phone, 20 Mbit/s down and 5 up, and finally I get to kick Comcast to the curb. Plus, as a bonus, the installer is going to clear out some of the muddle of cable splits that were a legacy of my incremental installation approach, and wire the living room off the central panel. Might even get Cat 5 up there by the time we’re done, who knows?

The number one reason I got FiOS out of that whole list, by the way, was not the speed. Even though it’s twice as fast as what we’re getting from cable right now. (It used to be four times as fast, but Comcast recently did a speed boost.) No, I’m excited because I finally get to give Comcast the finger for filtering Internet traffic based on what application you’re using, and for arbitrarily imposing bandwidth caps. Doesn’t matter if I wouldn’t hit those caps today; the way they made the announcement, the fact that you can’t know if you’re exceeding the caps until they cut you off, and the outrageousness of the fines, all mean that they have no idea how to deal with customers.

I don’t have illusions that Verizon is going to be perfect, but I think they’ll be better. I have evidence that suggests they will be.

By the way, here’s my Comcast speed test on a Sunday morning with no one else on the local loop. This is the best speed you get with Comcast. I’ll post an update once the FiOS numbers are in.

comcast_performance

Media wiring project: data cabling

For those that have not been following my structured wiring project (and hard to blame you: it’s been going on since late 2004), here are the highlights to date:

  1. Moved into a 1941 house with no inside telephone wiring and put a temporary fix in place.
  2. Installed a Leviton structured wiring box in our basement and mounted a telephone switching block, a cable T, and punchdowns for Cat 5 wiring.
  3. Ran Cat 5, phone, and coax into the first and second floor bedrooms while the walls were open for our air conditioning project.
  4. Ran all the phone and coax in the house into the structured wiring box
  5. Hook up the new outlets in the kitchen

The major step left incomplete after all this activity was the data wiring. I haven’t had to do a lot of data cabling in the house thanks to 802.11. But with three to four laptops, a TiVO, a Wii, speakers, and a printer all on the same hub, it’s occured to me that lighting up the data jacks that I installed in steps 3 and 5 might be a worthwhile endeavor.

So last weekend I got my wiring tools out, opened up the box, and took a look. I saw my punchdown block but couldn’t figure out how it was supposed to work. But I finally realized that the punchdown block simply provided physical termination for the wire alongside a jack into which the actual data service could be plugged. So I needed to do three things: terminate the two Cat-5 runs from the bedrooms into the punchdown block; buy and install a hub to light up the punchdown block; and extend the short run from the kitchen to the block so I could light it up as well.

It turned out to be really easy. The Cat-5 runs were color coded to the colors on the block, so I simply lined up the wires (blue & white, solid blue, orange & white, solid orange, green & white, solid green, brown & white, solid brown) and used the punchdown tool to knock them into the block. Then I used a crimping tool that I bought back in 2005 to make Ethernet patch cables from some spare Cat-5, and connected the block to the hub. I saved the short run for the weekend; I’ll probably move the long cable I had to the data block, and splice the short one and run it into the voice block.

That leaves one very important step: getting a data feed from the WAN (our ISP) into the hub. I have a plan for that, and it happens this weekend. And it involves a new contractor and a new drop to the house. And I’m very excited about it. Stay tuned!

Two hours and change with the Drain Doctor

I got a little carried away back in 2004. I assumed that when the clogged drain that backed up into our driveway got fixed, it stayed fixed.

Hah.

I found signs that it backed up again this morning, and proof this afternoon as a pool rose out of it when the washing machine drained. I called a complete bathroom renovation specialist in Adelaide, the Drain Doctor, and when he arrived I talked him through what I knew about the plumbing. He snaked back from the French drain, determined that the blockage wasn’t there, then went for the inside soil stack cleanout.

An aside: I don’t know how many other houses in our neighborhood have the peculiarities of our plumbing. The French drain is there because the driveway extends all the way to the back of our house, and is located right in front of our garage, which is in the basement. There’s a downward slope that used to pick up storm water from the street and take it down to the drain, in really heavy rain; fortunately, our driveway paving fixed that, but still any rain runoff from the driveway itself goes into the drain.

The drain, it appears, connects directly into our sewer pipe, with only a back pitch (it slopes up into the house) keeping nasty stuff from flowing up. Which means that when the main sewage line gets blocked, as it did tonight, the overflow went out back and came up the drain.

So the Drain Doctor guy snaked the line until we realized that he was hitting a blockage somewhere in the front of the house. We found another cleanout in the sump pump pit, which he opened up, and as it was somewhat, er, full, he realized he needed to snake both forward and back of the cleanout.

Which he did, over the course of about forty minutes. I take back everything I’ve ever said about plumbers: they earn their money. At the end, he sucked up all the stuff that came out of the cleanout into his own shopvac, poured his own Clorox into the sump pit to clear the smell, and left once he confirmed that we had clear running water going out the pipe.

The sad thing is, I’m pretty sure the blockage was caused by the previous owner, because tonight’s plumber pulled out some of the same things that our plumber in 2004 found—it just had never snarled up enough since then to be a problem, apparently. But it’s a good thing our pipes are clear, because I really feel like I need a shower.

Scrape scrape paint paint

Pick up the scraper, paint bucket, caulk gun, ladder. Walk up the driveway. Caulk is quick: push out, drag down, wipe. Let it dry, move on to the window sills. Pick up scraper and start to knock the paint, loosened by rain from a leaking gutter, from the sill.

And I’m back at the farm. I’m about ten or twelve, with my dad and my Pop-pop. We’re doing a workday on the 1857 farmhouse. There’s a porch that needs painting, and fifteen or so cousins and grandkids are there to do it. Gotta get the old cracked paint off first. Scrape, scrape. And when it doesn’t come loose, the heat gun loosens it up. Too close at first: brown mark on 1857 wood. Then the layers come off and the paint can come on.

I’m four sills over and the paint comes loose easily. I prime, paint an already primed frame, then come back and start painting the newly primed wood. 

And I’m on the roof of my dad’s garage. I’m sixteen. It’s summer, probably 95° and so humid you could wring the air. The house is mostly brick but the upper part is white painted vertical boards. I’m working on a section between the garage roofline and the gable. The attic on the other side of the boards is cooled by a fan on a thermostat but still hotter than the outside air. I’ve never been up there. Now I’m on the hot asphalt shingles dripping sweat into my eyes painting, painting. Hard white granules embed themselves into my knees.

In Massachusetts. My hand is sore from holding the brush; I change my grip. The shingles on the siding are old, maybe dating back to 1941. They can last one more winter.

Columbus Day: unaccustomed respite

I’m not used to having time to myself on Columbus Day, but for whatever reason, my company has the day off, and Lisa’s doesn’t. So a fairly leisurely morning, a luxury bagel, a little blogging, spend half my eMusic subscription for the month, and then get outside and caulk and paint some places where the house needs some help.

It’ll be in the mid-70s here, and while I surely don’t mind, that temperature is unaccustomed too. Weird is maybe a better way to describe it.

And it’s worth reflecting that, whatever Christopher Columbus’s faults, we’re here freaking out about the stock market and feeling cautious optimism about the presidential election and congratulating Paul Krugman because a Genovese navigator had an idea about a better route to the Indies. Sometimes it’s worth chasing those ideas.

Basement library complete


Here’s the after to Tuesday’s before, with my row of Bestå shelves from Ikea fully assembled. The doors went on Monday night, and the books went in the last few nights. I’m still waiting on one glass door and a few DVD organizers for the small shelf to the right, which will help with the clutter there.

The hardest thing about the shelves is probably just deciding where to put them to maximize storage. The shelves that meet the bottom of the glass doors need to stay fixed, and there are LPs behind the bottom doors, so that dictates the position of two shelves; and there needs to be another fixed shelf about a third of the way down for stability. But there are a lot of options for the other shelves. I ended up doing something I swore off years ago: sorting books by size and spacing the shelves accordingly. I bought five extra shelves for the units I bought (comprising four 75-inch bays and one 50 inch bay), and I think I still need to buy one or two more extras.

Bonus: click through on the photo and look at the “original size” version on Flickr, and you can get a pretty good look at the titles in my library.

Basement update: bookcases are in

A quick update on our basement project: it looks like we’ll make our deadline. The picture to the right shows a stage in the completion of the project, with the Bestå bookcases mostly assembled and the Flor carpet in.

I was able to finish the carpet with about an hours’ worth of work on Sunday. I was pleased with how well it came together and how solid it seems now that it’s settled in for 48 hours. Oh yes–and it’s bright too! Hoo boy. But it works in the otherwise slightly dark basement room, and helps set it aside as a “family” room as opposed to our more formal spaces.

The bookshelves were pretty straightforward too, though assembling three sets of shelves takes a little time. They’re cam-locked standard Ikea frames, just like a Pax closet or Akurum kitchen cabinet, or just about any other flat pack furniture, so the timely part is in leveling them so that the doors will line up properly, and in securing them to the wall. I was luck and hit studs going into four out of the six locations that were recommended as anti-topple points, so between that and the fact that the frames were screwed together I think we’re in business.

Since the picture was taken, I’ve finished hanging the glass doors on the front of the cabinets and have begun loading in the contents, which will take a while. I’ll post one more update when the shelves are all loaded in.

Basement progress update

We’re bound and determined to finish the basement project before the middle of next week. Why? Well, we’ll have both my parents and my sister visiting, and we only have one currently usable guest room… so it’s crunch time.

Fortunately, Lisa and Esta decluttered a lot of stuff and painted a lot of the basement last week, and Lisa and her Mom and I finished it over the last few days. So today was finishing day, beginning with a quick trip to Ikea to buy the bookshelves (detouring around the big fireball on Rt 128). More on the shelves tomorrow.

I bought a door to replace the water damaged one last weekend, and did a trial hanging of it today, mortising the hinges against the door and the frame. (Whoever hung the last door didn’t bother to mortise the hinges, just screwed them into the frame directly.) Then Lisa started painting the door, and I started laying the carpet.

We’re using Flor tiles for the carpet, and it’s kind of interesting. They come in boxes of 18 inch square tiles, and you start laying them down the center of the room on both axes, get them lining up as you like them, and then start filling in the four corners that are left. The tiles float above the subfloor, and are joined together by “dots”–essentially large stickers with heavy duty adhesive that join the corners together. It all goes very easily, until of course you get to the edge of the wall. Then the swearing begins. While Lisa put a coat and a half of paint on the (thankfully preprimed) door, I got about a wall and a half done along the edge, including the fireplace, before we had to knock off for the night.

Tomorrow’s job is to finish the carpet tiles, hang the door, and assemble the shelves. Then we can load the books and records back in, and find out how many books I have to find another home for. We won’t have a new sleeper sofa by Thursday, but we’ll have most of the room done, and that’ll be something.

Houseblog restart: Basement library and guest bedroom

For various reasons, we’ve taken a good long break from home improvement, so the houseblog has been pretty dormant. That changed last week when Lisa and I started to look seriously at what it would take to reclaim our basement as a guest bedroom.

Right now it’s quite a project. Ever since the flood in 2006, we haven’t really used the room as living space. We had a lot of cleanup to do, and ended up parking a lot of junk down there along with my (mercifully undamaged) books and music. The sump pump we installed in 2007 has helped us recover our confidence in the room, though, and we have A Plan For A Guest Room. (I’m capitalizing it so it feels more official.)

The room is not too small, about ten feet wide by fourteen or fifteen feet long, but of that fourteen or fifteen feet only about eleven feet is usable. The fireplace in the basement (which smokes too much to be usable) is made of fieldstone from behind the house, which is nice, but projects into the room about a foot, rendering the foot or so of wall space on either side unusable. And on the other side there’s a corridor running from the foot of the stairs to the door to the laundry room that has to be kept open for traffic. So there are already some floorplan challenges.

Add to that all the acres of leftover boxes, kitchen debris that we “decluttered” from the kitchen only to clutter the basement room, other clutter that accumulates through a few years of family life, extra furniture gifted by well meaning family members, surplus dog beds, and so on, and there’s a bit of a challenge in even seeing the walls.

So here’s the punchlist for the project:

Phase 1: Declutter

  1. Package up in storage crates the stuff we need to keep.
  2. Sell a few items of furniture and maybe some leftover electronics (surplus turntable, CD player, DVD player, TV)
  3. Give away whatever we can’t sell. (Thank you, Arlington List and Freecycle.)
  4. Throw away whatever we can’t give away.
  5. CDs–I have about a thousand CDs left after the Great CD Ripping Project concluded. They need a home.
  6. Before I get rid of the CDs, I need to buy a hard drive to back up my music drive, so that I don’t lose all the music I ripped.

Phase II: Redecorate

  1. Temporarily box up all my books and LPs. (No small feat.)
  2. Collapse the old open bookshelves that currently consume the walls in the main room.
  3. Paint!
  4. Lay new carpet tiles.
  5. Replace the door that covers the access for the main house water valve and the sump (the prior door was damaged in the flood).

Phase III: Reinstall

  1. Purchase and install new bookshelves, with doors, along one wall of the room. (Hello, Billy. Hello, Bestå.)
  2. Load in the books.
  3. Purchase a new sleeper sofa and set it up along the other wall.

The good news: Esta is visiting right now and has already helped with items 1, 3, and 4, and will be helping with #9. That still leaves a lot to be done when I get back from Tanglewood. But it should be fun.

Piece of the past

While I was in Pennsylvania, I helped my uncle move some junk out of the storage unit where we put some of my grandfather’s things. A few items held memories for me (I never could get comfortable on that fold-up metal cot, and was glad to see it go), but others were remnants: the boxes for his stereo, a piece of old demolished kitchen cabinets that was being used as a laundry table.

I happened to open one of the drawers in the aforementioned kitchen cabinets, and found an odd artifact: a hand drill, but looking like none I had ever seen. I asked my uncle about it, and he said he remembered using it with my grandfather on the farm back in the 1950s and 1960s. He said I could take it, so I brought it home.

The lettering on the gear handle said “Millers Falls Company, Greenfield, Mass.” A little searching turned up a history of the Millers Falls company and an illustration, description and photograph of our drill: a number 308, the so called “Buck Rogers” drill. The drill as manufactured featured red plastic grips and a fully enclosed gear, which had the benefit of keeping the mechanism working smoothly even after many years in a drawer. My grandfather’s was missing the box, and had white paint on both handles, but otherwise was intact. The handle still had some of the drill bits inside, though I haven’t looked closely to see if they are the originals.

It was oddly evocative to have this palmsize memento of my grandfather, who was so much bigger, whose hands fixed and built, fed and sheltered his family, until he couldn’t any more.

How does my garden grow?

Coral and green (dianthus and iris)

Originally uploaded by Tim Jarrett

Quite well at the moment, thanks. I just posted some photos of our early flowers this year (remember, those of you who live south of here, we only really got spring about three weeks ago here in Massachusetts). The iris are going great guns this year, with almost all the plants bearing multiple flowers, and we had a few pleasant surprises, like our dianthus coming back voluntarily and the early coral-colored tradiscantia returning.

Those who have been reading for a while will remember that these are the iris that came from my grandmother’s garden. Yes, as usual, I seem to be repeating myself year after year. Oh well.

Holiday weekend

I’ve spent the weekend so far mostly outside, which has been great. When I was at Fennell’s party last weekend I never got a chance to mow our lawn, and it took forever to get through this afternoon. Then grilling burgers afterwards, with errands in between.

There’s nothing more urgent or important that needs to be done this weekend than to take care of my house and my family. I kind of like that.

RIP Joe Ferrante

The Old House My House blog on the This Old House site broke the news of lead tile contractor Joe Ferrante’s death. Obviously any death from heart failure is tragic, but this one hits me for a variety of reasons. The tile work always seemed to me to be closest to a black art of any of the trades on the show, and I always enjoyed watching Joe demystify the work while still making clear how much effort and intelligence was really needed to do it right. My heart goes out to his family and the TOH crew.

Surprise home projects

I hadn’t planned to have any work done on the house this weekend—it’s been kind of a long week. But opportunity knocked—in the form of a paving contractor.

One of the things I haven’t liked about our house since we moved in is our road. Our neighbors are fine—it’s the actual pavement that is problematic. Like a lot of people in Arlington, we live on a private road—what this means is that the city doesn’t do anything about paving, sidewalks, or storm sewers, and we get a break on rules about things like on-street parking. It’s not a great trade-off if you have a driveway, like me. The biggest issue we have is that the last time the neighborhood association had the street paved, they left an unpaved triangular strip, about a foot wide at the widest, where our property line angles away from the street. It picks up road sand and salt, grows weeds, and generally annoys us. Add to that—the pavement that was there wasn’t level, and we generally had a big puddle in front of our house after a rainstorm. But I didn’t really figure on doing anything about it.

Until the paving contractor showed up to do our neighbor’s driveway—acting quickly, professionally, with a crew of about eight guys, they had the work well in hand before 9:30 in the morning. I knew they would be working on our next-door-neighbor’s curb, so I asked the foreman for a quote.

Before noon, the crew had laid in new asphalt right up to the curb, level from one end of the property to another, with no place for a puddle to form and no room for mud. Plus they fixed a huge crack in our sidewalk for free.