A sweet tip

Oct 6

Brought back from a months-long blogging hiatus by an email trick? Well, you gotta start somewhere.

Just learned that you can append your Gmail address with a plus sign or a period and some text to create your own external filter of sorts.

An example probably makes this easier.

In effect, “bvankat@gmail.com” is the same as “bvankat+twitter@gmail.com”, which is the same as “b.vankat@gmail.com”. The email all goes to the same place. The sweet part is, you can use these “separate” email accounts to register for things online, then route the incoming mail based on the address to which it was sent.

Another side effect: Multiple twitter accounts!

Twitter only allows you to sign up for one account per email address. That’s fine. Most people don’t need more than that. But for people interested in additional identities (say, in the newsroom, where we manage multiple multi-user accounts) it was always hard to remember which email address was tied to which account. Not any more.

Granted, this was an extremely nerdy problem. But it’s still a problem.

Patio progress report

Jul 13

It’s been awhile since anyone has seen the progress in the back yard. So here we go.

Last time I shared photos (in November), I had just finished the bottom level and cut blocks to go around the edges. Needed some finishing touches this spring, but it was basically ready to go.

But I wasn’t quite satisfied. Seemed weird that we had a first-class patio, but just a crappy old concrete sidewalk leading up to it.

It needed a set of matching stone steps as an entry way. And while we’re at it, might as well redo the wooden steps down from the deck, which were entirely too steep and narrow.

Get the shovels back out!

Six weeks of occasional work later. It’s getting close. But I always say that.

Planning for two steps. Using stakes for depth measurements.

Broke up the concrete sidewalk with a borrowed sledgehammer. Dug out the area for the new steps. Then remembered another outdoor project we had planned: Run electricity to the garage for lights and a garage-door opener.

So, we dug out a big trench, and ran electrical conduit and wires from the house to the garage. I got to drill a hole in the side of the house! Sweetness.

Rental drill. Giant bit.

My well-dressed helper.

View from the inside. We’re through!

The nearly finished product.

Connecting to the garage.

So now, a simple call to the electrician will give us beautiful lights, power-tool hookups and an easy escape for the vehicle from inclement weather in the garage. Can’t wait.

(Oh man, that’s reminds me of another blog post I forgot to write: We got rid of one of our cars! Stephanie’s working from home a lot more now, so we sold the Jetta to save on gas and insurance. So far, we’re loving it.)

But anyway, back to the patio …

Dammit, I thought I was done having piles of blocks and sand in my driveway!

Filling it up. Rounded corners for added degree of difficulty.

Side view. Also notice that the wooden deck steps are gone. Makes for a dangerous trip to the grill, which is on the patio below.

Top steps finished.

Just gotta add the blocks for the step down onto the patio.

And there’s finally a project deadline. Stephanie’s hosting a bridal shower for Natalie on August 13. Patio will be done. Steps will be done. And we’re hoping the next step of the backyard overhaul is also complete: new fence!

More on that later.

Zo Klesko Vankat, 1996-2011

May 24

What a good dog. Sunday was a sad day for the family.

Uh, where is everyone?

May 21

We’re sitting at home on Thursday night, kinda tipsy on margaritas, and we decide to have a party this weekend.

“Hey, Saturday is The Rapture, let’s have people over to celebrate the end of the world.”

So we drunkenly type out an email, agonize over who to invite and send it off.

“Join us on Saturday a 7:30 if you want. BYOB. We’ll see you if we see you.”

Went out today, bought a bunch of drinks and chips, got the yard and house all cleaned up.

And here it is, going on 9 o’clock. No one’s here.

“It’s weird isn’t it, that no one even acknowledged the email?”

“Yeah, it’s almost like the email never got sent.”

Come to find out, THE EMAIL NEVER MADE IT. Lost in some strange Gmail Bermuda Triangle. (Or was it drunken user error?)

So here we are, all dressed up, with a pitcher of margaritas to drink and a batch of guacamole to eat.

If we drink enough all by ourselves, maybe we’ll decide to throw another party next weekend. You might just get an email from us tonight. Or maybe we’ll find a way to screw it up again.

Not trying to jinx ‘em…

Mar 25

The World-Herald’s Dirk Chatelain wondered on twitter today whether a team had ever made the NCAA championship game without beating a Top-7 seed at any point in the tournament. (Kansas could do it this year if they keep winning and Butler beats Florida.)

So, I did some checking with the Washington Post’s amazing bracket database and found that the answer to Dirk’s question, unsurprisingly, is no.

But I also discovered that only three No. 1 seeds have even made the FINAL FOUR without beating a Top-7 seed.

’91 North Carolina beat a 16 seed, a 9 seed, a 12 seed, and a 10 seed.
’01 Michigan State beat a 16, 9, 12, 11.
’08 Kansas beat a 16, 8, 12, 10.

Nerdy, yes. Also cool.

The annual “Man, I suck at picking winners” post

Mar 20

NCAA tournament pool stats after the first weekend:

19-13 in the first round. Good enough for last place.

6-10 in the second round. Good enough for last place.

I have 3 of my Elite 8 left. I have 2 of my Four left.

I’m losing to a cat (a real cat) that made his picks based on bird mascots and colors.

My only hope is that Stephanie’s bracket wins (she’s in fourth place) and she throws a couple bucks my way.

It’s in (by a sixteenth of an inch)

Mar 16

It made it by that much.

Our old fridge was fine. It just didn’t have a working ice maker. Or water dispenser in the door. Or an exterior color that matched the rest of our appliances.

But it did work. Milk was cold. Frozen pizzas were frozen.

At a January party, though, Sarah told us they had a nearly-new fridge just sitting in their garage — black, ice maker, water dispenser, French doors — a fine upgrade.

“My husband’s parents bought us get a new one as a housewarming gift,” Sarah said, “so we’re just going to put this one on Craigslist soon if we can’t find anyone to take it. Would you guys want it?”

“How much?” we asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. What should a used fridge cost? What if we charged you $150 and made you take us out for drinks a couple times?”


First step: Will it fit? The old fridge was pretty small and came with the place when we bought our house. I emailed the old owners and asked how they got it in.

“It was here when we moved in,” Tiffany said. “And those doors are narrow. So good luck. Tell me how it goes.”

So, we measured the new fridge and the space in our kitchen. No problem. Then we measured the door frame. Uh oh.

Side door was immediately ruled out. Too narrow. Plus, how would we lift it up the steps in the kitchen? Front door would be our only hope. We could definitely get it inside. But the problem was going to be the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room.

Width of doorframe: 29 inches.
Depth of fridge with doors removed: 29 inches.

At one point, I think we weighed the pros and cons of just leaving it in the dining room permanently.

After another couple weeks of nervous hand-wringing where we officially ruled out having it transported by a moving company (“Two-hour minimum?! All I need is for you to lift a fridge off the truck!”), Dad finally rented a trailer and we drove over to the Hansens’ house, committed to taking it off their hands, but not yet sure what we would do when we got home with it.

We had to unhinge the front storm door, and take off both wooden entryway doors just to get the fridge into the living room. Then the surgery began in the kitchen.

Removed the oven handle. Fridge still didn’t fit.
Removed the oven knobs. Didn’t fit.
Removed the brackets holding the fridge feet. Didn’t fit.
Removed the metal plate covering the back of the fridge. Didn’t fit.

We were running out of options. Our last hope seemed dangerous — removing the cardboard we had installed as padding to protect the wood of the door frame and granite on the countertop. Plus, the whole process was taking “longer than it should,” which is my ultimate frustration with projects around the house. I was getting crabby and impatient. We were removing quarter-inch sheets of cardboard from the edge of the doorway, so of course I was skeptical. It still wasn’t going to fit.

But, a couple furious extra shoves later, the fridge finally hopped over the lip of the kitchen tile and groaned its way through our narrow passageway.

An hour’s worth of deep cleaning later, we had ice cubes crashing into the reservoir and water splashing into our glasses.

No, literally, SPLASHING. There’s something wrong with the pressure to the dispenser. Water is shooting out like a laser.

But that just gives me another excuse to head to the hardware store.

Projects, 2011

Feb 26

With the hope that listing these home-improvement projects in a public space will inspire many motivational, “Is it done yet?” questions from friends and family, I present to you my always-increasing list of “Stuff I’d Like to Do to the House” :

Paint the front bedroom

Paint the bathroom

Install the chandelier in the kitchen, which first requires the conversion of two light fixtures, which first requires the addition of an attic crawl space.

New water line to the kitchen for the new refrigerator. (Also: Transport the new refrigerator.)

Running electricity to the “wine cellar” in the basement, plus a new door. Prerequisite: Stop the leak.

Chisel the paint from the crown molding in the dining room and living room. (Not from my own sloppy painting, of course. I just refused to cover old painting mistakes with new paint.)

Paint the small strip of drywall by the backdoor that I forgot when I originally painted the kitchen.

Paint the basement.

New first floor windows. Eight of them.

New electrical outlets in the living room and on the front of the house.

Outdoor faucet on the southwest corner of the house.


Feb 16

The annual Society for News Design awards were handed out last weekend, and a secret ballot determined the winner of the contest’s “best in show,” known as the World’s Best Designed Newspaper.

Some years, multiple papers win, some years none do. Here’s a bunch of pages from this year’s lone winner, Portugal’s “i”.

Some truly beautiful ideas in there.

Also, Stephanie started her own blog! Turns out Tumblr has just the right mix of features and simplicity that was preventing her from posting more around here. So, until I find a way to pull those posts into this blog, definitely bookmark her new spot on the web: stephanievankat.tumblr.com

Adventures in plumbing, volume 1

Jan 4

Now that I’m relegated to inside home improvement projects thanks to sub-zero temperatures, I’m tackling a few nagging issues.

First up: kitchen water pressure.

Since we moved in two years ago, the kitchen sink, it seems, had only released water by accident. An anemic, pathetic stream. Jokingly, I would tell people that you could make a trip to the bathroom in the time it took to fill up a pan with enough to make pasta. Then one night I actually did just that. (Another, equally annoying, option would have been to just fill up the pans in the bathroom. That, though, is more difficult to explain at dinner parties.)

Occasionally, there would be a sign that the pressure might return. We’d turn off the main water line to fix something else, and when turned back on, the pressure would surge in the kitchen, then promptly return to a trickle.

Our (and by “our,” I mean Dad’s) main theory was that the mix of copper and iron pipes in the basement had combined to form a corroded road block of sorts, causing the low flow to the kitchen. We scheduled several exploratory sessions that mainly involved a lot of grasping our chins and staring knowingly at the pipes in the basement ceiling.

“That’s got to be the problem,” we’d both say, as we tried to come up with another excuse project that DIDN’T involve hack saws, a blow torch and hours of work.

I’d cautiously taken the sink handle apart on several occasions, thinking there wasn’t much damage I could cause as long as I put things back together in the right order. No luck there either. Same wimpy flow.

Seeing strong pressure (blasting pressure — seriously, the basement shower can take off skin) at the other faucets in the house only made it worse. Here’s a 95-year-old house taunting me to find the problem. So, a few weeks ago, I did what any clueless homeowner does — he backtracks, thinking to himself, “Maybe I missed something last time. If I just try it again, I’ll find the solution.”

And I did.

I grabbed a bucket, then pulled out the trash can from under the sink and disconnected the lines. When I turned the valve, water shot out. A steady stream. “See! Look! The pressure from the basement is great right here. The problem is somewhere beyond the valve!” (This was me talking to myself at 1:30 in the morning.) Five connect-disconnect experiments later, I had isolated the diverter (I only know the name because I found a parts diagram online) that sends water between the main spout and the sprayer.

That diverter had three parts, giving me a choice: Do I just order all three parts from the internet, or do I go with the cheapest one, hoping it’ll work? And of course, stupidity prevailed again. I ordered only the cheapest one. $18.73 from the Moen online store, delivery in 5-7 business days.

I even sent Dad and Stephanie an excited, 2:30 a.m. email proclaiming a theoretical solution that didn’t involve potential basement flooding. Understandably, they responded with the email equivalent of rolling their eyes: “Good! I hope it works.”

At this point, I should probably apologize to my family, who had a hell of a time finding Christmas presents for me this year. For about a week mid-December, I was truly so excited about this sink part that I didn’t even WANT any other gifts. I wasn’t going to be bothered with a list — all of my problems could be solved if I could just fill a bowl of ramen noodles with water in less than 20 seconds!

Imagine my disappointment then, when the part never came.

After eight business days, I emailed Moen customer service:

“Hi, I bought this sink part and you said it was coming this week, but it never did. Can you tell me what happened? And maybe refund my shipping cost?”

(Of course, I never got a tracking number on the package when I placed the order because that would have cost me two more bucks. “$1.99 for Priority Mail? Pssssh. Heck naw, that’s a ripoff.”)

The response from Moen was predictable: “We usually advise customers that shipping will take 8-10 business days. And we have no idea where the package is because you didn’t want that option. No refund.”

So, I waited another, excruciating week. One night, I thought it had arrived. Smallish, yellow envelope. Plastic cylinder inside. Strange, unknown return address. Yes!

Nope. It was Mom’s stupid Christmas present watch. Seriously, my happiness at that point was attached to the unknowing mailman’s daily deliveries.

Another email, two weeks after the shipping confirmation: “Come on now, Moen. Quit playing games with my part. It’s been 13 business days and two full weekends. Where is my Product #14960, Pre ’09 Model?! This time I’m formally requesting a refund.”

“Mr. Vankat. We are sorry. We don’t know where the part is. Let us send you a new one, free shipping. But still no tracking number.”

The part finally arrived at our door on Dec. 21.

And the damn thing worked. It just worked.