Jan 14

Kentucky Wisdom: What you do on the first day of the year is how your year will go. In that case, uh-oh.

My mom says that my grandmother Hester used to say that what you do on the first day of the year foretells how you will spend the rest of your year.  If that’s the case, 2014 will be a year of unexpected tears in fences and figuring out how to fix them.

The Culprit:

Curious jumping Indy puppy

Curious jumping Indy puppy

Apparently 6 months is the “terrible two’s” of puppyhood.  Indy has entered an incredibly destructive phase of intense curiosity, increased mobility, and the ability to jump over 3 feet high, as evidenced by her Great Escape through a relatively small and high hole in the fence line.

The Fence:

Wiring mesh to the old fence

Wiring mesh to the old fence

My mom and I put in a split-rail fence last spring, which is still beautiful and amazing, but the very back edge of my property already had chain-link fencing, so we didn’t do anything with that, even in the SW corner where there was a gap.  It was such a small gap and so high up, it didn’t seem like a worry.  There was also a low spot where a tree had fallen down and bent the fence.  This was just the opening Indy needed to test her new spring-loaded jumping skills to escape through the fence into the neighbor’s back yard.

The Fix:

Janey fixing the fence

Janey fixing the fence

We hand-sawed through the tree trunk to get the weight off the fence, and  zip tied new mesh that extended about 7 feet up from the ground.  Even Indy can’t jump over that!

Fleep fixing fence

Fleep fixing fence

Zip ties solve so many problems!

The Lessons:

Indy safely back at home, enjoying the mud and commotion

Indy safely back at home, enjoying the mud and commotion

Curiosity pokes holes in what we thought was secure and established.

Ignoring the gaps and procrastinating on fixing obvious problems might be at your own peril.

Asking for help makes solving every problem easier.

Zip ties really do solve so many problems!


Apr 13

Spring Project: Installing a Split Rail Fence for Bauser

If you follow me on Twitter or Flickr, you may have noticed my picture stream became flooded with doggy pix over the last few months with the newest addition to the Fleephaus family.

Bauser’s not too keen on the whole seatbelt concept.

Here’s the story:  Late one night at the end of November, I was driving a friend home, when I rounded a curve to find a big dog standing right in the middle of the road looking terrified at the oncoming headlights.  I pulled over to try to call him off the road, and as I got out of the car and hollered for the dog, I didn’t even think about the fact that I’d left my driver side door open.

In went the dog, right in the driver side seat.  The big dog.  With big teeth.  My friend jumped out of the other side of the car and we both stared at each other in horror.  How to get the big dog OUT of the car now that he was in it and didn’t seem to want to leave?

Well, he wouldn’t get out even with calling, whistling, cajoling.  He squirmed into the backseat and firmly planted himself there with a look that said, “So, where are we going?”

Bauser checking out the house for the first time.

Eventually we went home with the dog in the car and the next morning I posted flyers and tweets and called the SPCA.

But after a few weeks, no one had claimed him and the SPCA called me back to see if I wanted him, otherwise they were going to put him to sleep.  What could a good bleeding heart softy do but adopt the poor fellow?

First night home from the SPCA, he lost 8 pounds in just a couple weeks there!  🙁

We decided his name was Bauser, after a dog my grandpa had when my mom was a little girl, and the slow process of introducing the kitties to the dog began.  And since I didn’t have a fence, every single time Bauser needed to potty meant putting on boots and coats and dragging ourselves out in the snow and cold.  It was a long winter.  😉

Bauser really wants to go out and play in the snow, but there’s no fence!

But now, finally! spring has arrived, and after much research and prep work, my mom and I are putting in a split rail fence so Bauser will have full run of the yard, get good exercise, and I can be a little lazier and just let him outside when he wants to go.

Bauser is very excited about his new bone, but sad that he’s tied to a line.

Putting in a fence is something in the past that I would have asked my grandpa to help me with, but now that he’s gone, my mom and I have had to start learning how to fend for ourselves with these big house projects.  I seriously do not know what mankind did before the internets, because thankfully, there’s tons and tons of good information and how-to videos about how to do things like put up a fence.    I’ve collected some of the best videos I found on my wiki here.

Step 1:  Get a Property Survey

If you want to build a fence near your property line, and you don’t already have markers for where your property lines are, the first thing you have to do is get a professional surveyor out to mark it for you.  I called a bunch of places and the initial estimates were in the $500-$900 range, which nearly knocked me over!

Fortunately, I had a chat with a neighbor who also put in a fence this spring, and he gave me a tip for a local surveyor who gave a much better price.  His name was Doug Spreen, and if you live in the Cincinnati area and need a property survey, I highly recommend him.  He was very friendly and knowledgeable, got me scheduled within a week, charged a much more reasonable price, and did a great job.  Plus hooray, I discovered my property was actually much larger than I thought!

Step 2:  Get a Permit

In Green Township where I live, the City of Cincinnati handles the permits for exterior home improvements.  I called the City of Cincinnati Zoning department, explained to the lady who answered what I wanted to do, and within a few moments she emailed me the permit application and an image of my parcel that I could draw where the fence would go, and boom, emailed everything back and paid the $130 permit fee online and I was set to go.  I was very pleased that the process could all be done online and very quickly, which really says a lot about how much the City of Cincinnati has modernized their services.

Step 3:  Call Before you Dig

In Ohio, the Ohio Utilities Protection Service makes it super easy to find out from local utility companies where underground powerlines, water lines, and other utilities are located.  One quick phone call to 811 or 1-800-362-2764, and within a few days the utility folks come out and mark anywhere on your property where an underground utility exists.

Kinda hard to see in the picture, but they spray painted where the utilities are.

It was super simple and I felt a lot better knowing that my proposed fence site was in the clear and I wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally zapping myself by digging in the wrong place.

Step 4:   Clear Brush and Snap a Mason’s Line

The right rear corner of my property is wooded and was pretty overgrown with honeysuckle and vines and scrub brush, so I had to clear out a path for the proposed fence.  It was daunting at first, but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Once the brush was cleared, my sister and I marked the property line in pink string, and the proposed fence line in neon yellow.  Not only would it help us make sure our fence didn’t get crooked, it was also really neat to finally be able to visualize exactly where everything would go.

Step 5:  Get Supplies and Tools

One of my biggest gripes at the moment is that manufacturers do not make tools for women!!! It is extremely frustrating that most tools and hardware are designed for someone at least a half a foot taller than me, with bigger hands than me, and a lot more upper body strength than me.  My mom and I scoured the hardware stores looking for tools that had a smaller grip or shorter handles to make it easier for us to use them.

Shorter, more manageable post hole diggers from Lowes.

And yes, we looked at renting an auger, but holy moses, we could hardly lift the darn things, let alone imagine trying to use them.  Eventually we found some fiberglass post hole diggers that were much lighter, and even a pair of wooden handled ones that were much shorter and easier to maneuver, and so far they are serving us very well.

The full list of tools and supplies we’re using:

  • Mason string and stakes for marking the fence line
  • Measuring Tape
  • A large level for checking plumb
  • A good spade for starting the hole (not a shovel)
  • A small digging shovel for squaring the holes
  • Two post hole diggers, one larger, one smaller
  • A baseball bat and a long straight stick for tamping the dirt back in
  • Gravel for drainage at the bottom of the holes

One note:  To concrete or not to concrete?  After much research on the internets, where there are lots of conflicting opinions about whether or not to set the posts in concrete, I decided to NOT go the concrete route because I found it pretty convincing that the concrete holds moisture and can cause the bottom of the fence posts to rot.  Since this is not going to be a heavy load bearing fence, I felt the concrete option would be more work and maybe cause potential problems that I didn’t want to deal with.  Plus if you do concrete, you have to set it below the frost line, which in Zone 6 is 36 inches, and that would require longer, more expensive posts.  Hopefully I won’t regret this decision down the road.

Step 6:  Get Fencing Materials

After looking at the stock split rail fencing materials at Home Depot and Lowes, I have to admit I was pretty unimpressed.  Many of the rails and even posts looked warped and just not the kind of quality I expected.  With again a thousand thanks to my nice neighbor, he gave me a great tip – he got his materials from Mills Fencing Company, a local fencing place, and to my great surprise, not only was the stock MUCH higher quality, it was also cheaper!

So again, if you’re doing a project like this in the Cincinnati area, I highly recommend the Mills Fencing Company folks.  The fellows we worked with picked out the nicest posts and rails and loaded them all up for us.

Step 7:  Mark the Spot & Start Digging (and Digging and Digging..)

From there it’s really not too complicated.  After marking the spot where the first end or corner post goes, you basically dig a hole, pour in some gravel, set the post, tamp the dirt (or in my case, nasty clay) back in, and you’re off to the races.

Mother starting the first post hole.

A few things we’ve learned along the way:

1)  Dig the holes and set the posts one at a time:  Since my fence is following the contour of the land and my property slopes steeply downhill in places, it’s best to do one post at a time instead of marking all the spots and digging the holes in advance.  The rails fit pretty snugly in the posts if you measure it correctly, but if you’re off by even a little bit, the rails either don’t go in enough or go in too far.  With the slope, I can imagine it would be very easy to get off course if you tried to dig the holes in advance.

Me setting the first post.

2)  Don’t dig a hole bigger or deeper than you need:  This is really silly advice and should be self-evident, but our first few holes were enormous!  It took us a little practice to get good at making the holes just the right size so we didn’t waste effort digging too much – which was especially painful since that meant we also had to waste effort filling it back in!

Bauser is very sad that we won’t let him come over and help dig.

3) Measure, eyeball, and check plumb constantly: It’s easy to get caught up in doing what you’re doing, but the second you forget to check your placement, or to check whether the post is plumb, that’s when you goof up and have to expend even more energy to fix your mistake.  We’ve definitely learned the value of checking measurements and plumb constantly.

So that’s the report so far, we’re about 1/3 done and I am pleased as punch with how the fence is coming along.  I think it’s beautiful!

I’ve completely surprised myself with my strength and endurance, and Bauser is going to LOVE being able to run around like a wildman in his own back yard.

Jul 12

Jellybean (Beanie) Dinkus (2001-2012)

To my kitty Beanie who was, of all the kittens, the bratty one, the spoiled one, the skittish one, the hairiest sheddingest one, the one who when she needed lovins didn’t ask for them but demanded them right this second, with the sweetest purr and the most plaintive meow. We’ll miss you.

Sep 08

CCK08 – Disconnected

(This post is about the Massively Online Open Course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge being taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes from September to December 2008. Over 1900 participants have signed up, and I am facilitating the Second Life cohort for the course. Over the following months, I will be posting about the experience, home work assignments, and other materials related to our activities.)

Storm damage in Cincinnati, photo by elycefeliz used under CC licensing.

On Sunday, the remnants of Hurricane Ike traveled all the way up to Indiana and Ohio, and though I’ve certainly seen my fair share of weird weather phenomena, I have never seen a wind storm like that! I lost my biggest shade tree in the back yard and have a little roof damage, but other than property damage, all my friends, family, and coworkers are ok. Being so far inland, this part of the country is certainly not prepared for hurricane or tropical force winds, and it caused a massive blackout in the region, shortages of gas and food, school closings, and a new understanding and sympathy for those in Texas who took the brunt of the storm.

And suddenly, in the middle of the Connectivism course, I found myself forcefully Disconnected.

I’ve had brief power outages before, but not for so long and never for so long in the summer. When you get a big winter storm, there’s a snowy white visual barrier between you and the rest of the world and you know it will melt and things will get back to normal. This time, there was no visual, nothing but the hanging powerlines and broken telephone poles to remind you that our modern society and all of our connections are really quite tenuous. Without the juice that those cables provide, and the pipes that transmit all of those 01010101011110001’s, those of us who are hyperconnected online may be more isolated and disconnected locally than ever before. It was a sobering thought.

It wasn’t until sometime on Monday when I began to worry that the power might not be back by Tuesday’s Connectivism course meeting in Second Life that I remembered my Utterz account. I have Utterz set up in such a way that I can call Utterz from my cell phone and record a message. Utterz then creates a post automatically on my blog, and WordPress is set up with a plug-in to automatically send a message to Twitter whenever something is posted on my blog. This means that when I was stranded with no electricity, internet, or landline phone, I could flip open my cell phone, record a message, and within a few minutes my voice was online and my network of twitter friends were notified. Chilbo residents Malburns Writer and Tara Yeats noticed it, and Tara is also in the Connectivism course, so she very kindly sent an email out to the Second Life Cohort to let folks know I was offline. (Thanks Tara!)

Hmm, so maybe not so disconnected after all. But it was quite strange to be standing in the dark and sending out what felt like an SOS of sorts into the ether. What to say when you’re talking to.. well, anyone? Should I direct the message to my blog readers, to the Connectivism course? Without access to my online calendar, I wasn’t even sure who else I was supposed to be meeting with, so maybe it should be as general as possible? I realized I am quite weirded out by posting a voicemail to anyone who happens to hear it!

Mobile post sent by fleep using Utterzreply-count Replies.  mp3

And then a few days later I ran across a post by fellow Connectivism student Janet Clarey, who writes about my Utterz post, saying:

Chris Collins (a/k/a Fleep) sends a mobile post to her blog because she has no power and no Internet connection. She’s letting her ~2,000 online course mates (in the CCK08 course) know that she won’t be in attendance today. No biggee right? It’s no different than a voice mail sent to a group. Or is it? I think it’s significant. She’s communicating with anyone.

I’m not sure I could be as creative if I found myself without power or a connection. Perhaps that’s because Fleep seems to have several less wrinkles than I do and doesn’t carry the weight of my prior telecommunication experiences. Or maybe I’m just not cool.

See, I’d call someone even though anyone would be the better choice for learning (e.g., what was covered during her absence). She’s inviting dialogue over monologue.

Janet gives me too much credit. =) I am actually old enough to remember shared phonelines, dialing telephones, and pressing 9 to get an outside line. I’m old enough to feel awkward speaking to just anyone who happens to hear, and I’m still experimenting with and feeling out my own boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate to broadcast out to the whole wide world. The only difference, perhaps, between Janet and myself, is that I had previously played with Utterz, had taken the time to set up the cascading automated linkages that would make that audiopost > blog > twitter chain happen, and remembered it during the blackout. But on the inside, I’m still uncomfortable both with my connectedness and disconnectedness, I still feel unsure, strangely vulnerable talking to anyone and yet discomfited when the lights were out and the PC buzz was palpably absent.

I think we’re all still learning how to be connected, how to cope with disconnection, and where our comfort level begins to stray into uncomfortable territory. One of the lessons I took from this (besides the fact that I really should have a bigger store of batteries and non-perishable food!) is that there turned out to be great value in the hour or so I spent playing with Utterz.. what a year ago when I set that up? It turned out that by connecting my blog and twitter to some new service I wasn’t even sure how to use or what to use it for would eventually come in handy. That the few minutes I spend from time to time listening to my friends’ Utterz was back there in my memory, recalled in the moment of need. Setting up connections is time consuming, and sometimes I don’t know what value, if any, it will have, but in this case, it turned out to be very handy indeed.

And it wasn’t just the technology connection that made this work, it was also the people connection. Malburns and Tara are good online friends, good citizens of our community, and good hyperconnected netizens. Who knows how many people saw/heard that post and did nothing, but Tara took the time to not only listen to the message, but then to compose a message and forward it on my behalf, completing a circuit in the chain that was NOT automated (notifying the Connectivism SL cohort) – and it was our personal relationship and connection that made that part happen, not the technology itself.

Lesson: Need batteries and better emergency stores at home – you must plan for the unexpected.

Lesson: Our electronic connections are more tenuous than they sometimes appear. The energy crisis and degrading infrastructure in the US is a Serious Issue that we need to pay more attention to.

Lesson: Keeping abreast of and playing with new online tools and ways to connect can have big payoff in the future, even if you don’t see value in it now.

Lesson: Technology facilitates many things, but it’s the people connections that ultimately save the day.

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Mar 08

Blizzard ’08 in Cincinnati

Update: It really is a blizzard – officially even! WLWT local news has the full scoop, but it looks like the tri-state area is under a blizzard warning from the National Weather Service until 4PM today.

The local news just tweeted about the Blizzard of ’08 – it’s been snowing since yesterday morning and hasn’t stopped yet as far as I can tell.

Snow on the back deck

Snow on the railing

I had to open the back door to get a couple of quick snapshots, and Cleo couldn’t resist checking things out.

Cleo looks out the back door

Not sure if you can tell from the perspective in that picture, but the snow looks about thigh high for me. I sat down on the ground to get a better perspective of the mound of snow in comparison to Cleo.

Cleo vs the mountain of snow - snow wins!

Oct 07

That’s not a squirrel, it’s a chipmunk!

So you might have seen from the various Tweet updates that the gatos chased a little furry critter into the house and into an air-duct vent in the living room. It should be noted that this is entirely my fault for not getting the vent covers painted and the baseboard put up as I should have lo these many years. Dad didn’t say “I told you so” but he did laugh a lot as I explained the circumstances of the situation.

I only got a glimpse of the critter as it disappeared into the hole on Saturday afternoon, and by Sunday, it still hadn’t come out. I banged around on the air duct pipe downstairs to make sure it was still alive, and I could hear the poor thing’s terrified squeaking, so it was definitely alive and at least somewhat mobile, but it didn’t seem to be making an appearance any time soon.

We talked about the possibility of cutting into the galvanized steel air ducts, but Dad didn’t seem to have much confidence in my ability to operate a jig-saw, and since I’m not even sure if I’m spelling that right, I didn’t have too much confidence either. The best thing seemed to be for the darned thing to come out on its own.

Air ducts in the basement

In consultation with Dad, I thought perhaps it wasn’t able to climb up the steep incline of the air duct tube, so I poked a scarf into the vent with a hanger and threaded a bit of apple with a needle and lowered it into the vent to make sure the poor thing didn’t die before I figured out how to get it out. (The thread was so I’d know if it ate it or not!)

Apple bits on thread

I went out to buy an animal trap, and when I got back, I discovered evidence that the critter had managed to climb up out of the vent, but had gone back down again! But not before pooping in the corner.

Chipmunk tracks in the power

I blocked off everything but the trap with a box and an old PC case, and at least once it came up and ate the food off the pressure plate without tripping the trap.

The setup

I reset the trap before leaving for work, and when I got home, the chipmunk was alive and well and a little squeaky, but otherwise appeared unharmed.

Chipmunk in the trap

I carried him down to the bottom of the hill in the backyard and let him loose among the autumn leaves. He stopped just inside the tree line and looked back for a moment, and then dashed off into the underbrush. I hope he stays far from the cats and lives a long, happy chipmunky life, poor guy.

I should also note that this is not the first time I’ve had wild critters in the house because of the cats. They also managed to separate a corner of the screen door to the patio from the frame, allowing these guys to come into the dining room where I discovered them eating right out of the cat food bowl.

Racoons in the tree 1

I chased them off with a broom and they went as far as the tree in the back yard, but sat there for hours waiting for a chance to come back in! No more leaving the screen door open.

Racoons in the tree 2

Maybe Animal Planet should come film at my house.