Sunday, January 30, 2011

Basement update [Bryan]

Ellie and I have described a certain neurosis that has developed in me while I've been working on my basement. It is "irrational, unattainable, perfectionism." My perfectionism is "irrational" because I've stressed about perfecting even aspects of the job that no one will ever see. For example, I really tried to make sure my wiring was tidy and straight, even though this will forever be hidden from human eyes. My perfectionism is "unattainable" because, with my skill set and experience, doing things perfectly was not really an option. One can never reach perfection, after all, the first time one has ever done something, like drywalling. I have often reached the end of a job wishing I could start over, knowing much better what to do at that point than I did when I started. Of course, trying to save money on tools and materials doesn't help the perfectionist cause much, either.

Anyway, I have finished drywalling! It was a long, hard slog. I hung 5/8" drywall on the ceiling because the joints are 24" apart, and 1/2" drywall on the walls. The one exception was the soundproof wall around Nora's room, which was also 5/8" for sound control. The drywall is fire and mold resistant. I managed to hang most of the drywall on the ceiling myself, with the help of a rented drywall lift from Home Depot (best $37 I ever spent). This will go down, in my own mind, as one of the most amazing things I feel I have ever done, since drywall is very heavy and awkward. I worked from 7:00 AM one morning to 2:00 AM the next morning (I had to get the lift back in 24 hours). One of the hardest days of work I have ever done. Please feel free to congratulate me profusely.

The last couple weeks have been consumed by taping, mudding, and sanding. I even "skim coated" the entire project, because I heard on Home Time that this is the way to give your mud job that extra bit of quality. Still, there are little imperfections throughout, since, as I said, this is the first time I have drywalled anything.

This was messy, tiring, tedious work. The dust from the sanding alone seems to have destroyed several things, including our furnace. Despite my efforts to seal off the basement, dust managed to enter our furnace room and clog the filter, thus leading the furnace to overheat and destroy the gas flow switch ($300 repair bill). Cleaning up all the slopped, hardened mud was a two-day task in itself. I had to scrape much of it off on my hands and knees with a wire brush. I'm glad I did the drywall, but I'm not sure I want to do this part of the job again.

(Thanks to Ellie, Anna, and Spencer for helping me sand. Thanks to the Mannings for loaning out some sanding implements.)

The half wall leading to the stairs, drywalled, and primed to paint.

The hall nook to Nora's room, drywalled, primed, and ready to paint.

On to floorboards, painting, and door installation.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Three achievements [Bryan]

There have been a three articles published in the last few months, from fairly conservative sources, grudgingly admitting that President Obama may have been right about certain things, after all.

First, an article from Forbes Magazine, pointing out that the small business tax credit already seems to be working really well to help small businesses give health insurance to their employees:

The first statistics are coming in and, to the surprise of a great many, Obamacare might just be working to bring health care to working Americans precisely as promised.

The major health insurance companies around the country are reporting a significant increase in small businesses offering health care benefits to their employees.


Because the tax cut created in the new health care reform law providing small businesses with an incentive to give health benefits to employees is working.

Second, an article from the right-leaning Economist magazine, admitting that "an apology is due to Barack Obama" when it comes to the "bailout" of the auto industry. The magazine opines:
The doomsayers were wrong. Unlike, say, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, who used public funds to support Renault... on condition that they did not close factories in France, Mr Obama has been tough from the start. GM had to promise to slim down dramatically—cutting jobs, shuttering factories and shedding brands—to win its lifeline. The firm was forced to declare bankruptcy. Shareholders were wiped out. Top managers were swept aside. Unions did win some special favours: when Chrysler was divided among its creditors, for example, a union health fund did far better than secured bondholders whose claims should have been senior. Congress has put pressure on GM to build new models in America rather than Asia, and to keep open dealerships in certain electoral districts. But by and large Mr Obama has not used his stakes in GM and Chrysler for political ends. On the contrary, his goal has been to restore both firms to health and then get out as quickly as possible. GM is now profitable again and Chrysler, managed by Fiat, is making progress. Taxpayers might even turn a profit when GM is sold.
Third, an article from the conservative Frum Forum, arguing that the President's successful unwinding of the bank bailouts proves he is "no socialist."

The Obama administration just announced its plans to sell off the government’s majority stake in the bailed-out insurance company AIG. The government also has been unwinding its positions in Citigroup and other banks, and is preparing to sell off its shares in GM as well.

The AIG rescue and the other TARP bailouts, initiated by the Bush administration with support from then-candidate Obama, were never popular in general and are anathema among Tea Party voters. But these bailouts seem to have worked out pretty well. The cost to taxpayers looks likely to be modest (it’s possible the Treasury will profit on AIG overall). A reasonable concern — that the government had no clear exit strategy from its crisis-driven role ­— has turned out to not be a lasting problem.

I have always thought that Obama's rhetorical skill was overrated. It is really his policy and managerial skills that have set him apart so far.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Book Review: Seven Fires [Bryan]

I received many great Christmas and birthday gifts. Perhaps the best gift, though, was a book from Ellie: Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. It's a cookbook that I've actually read cover to cover!

The reason why it is so meaningful to me, of course, has to do with my Mormon mission, which I served in Buenos Aires. Over my two years in South America, I grew to be fascinated by Argentina. The Europeanesque streets of Buenos Aires, its cocky but friendly people, its dark and tragic history, its huge mansions and its extensive slums. The thing that I grew to love most, I suppose, was its cuisine. Simple. Straightforward. No frills. Largely just meat and an open wood fire. The Argentinians know how to cook beef like nothing I have ever experienced.

The book was valuable because it tells me how to cook the stuff I ate, and cook it right. It also captures the connection between food and culture. It is not just backyard grilling. It explores the way of life as it connects to the cooking.

Now, the philosophy of food in the book is simple. You need to char food, even burn it. You need to produce a dissonance, two tastes fighting each other. The author, esteemed chef Francis Mallman, writes, "As you'll see in many of the recipes in this book, charring and burning adds an extra dimension to breads vegetables, and fruit. The right amount of burning and charring can be delicious and seductive...I believe that many chefs and cookbooks make entirely too much of harmony." I agree. The dissonance of the food, I should point out, captures many of the dissonances I experienced in Argentina (South American v. European, First World v. Third Word, Rich v. Poor, etc.).

Oh, and it also has a recipe for "una vaca entera" -- an entire cow. The recipe calls for "1 medium cow, about 1400 pounds, butterflied." The cooking of the cow, "a cross between a banquet and a construction project," calls for "1 heavy-duty block-and-tackle attached to a steel stanchion set in concrete" and "1 two-sided truss made of heavy duty steel." The book includes the two-day, step-by-step instructions, and photos of an enormous cow carcass hoisted above an open fire.