Archive for October, 2008

Family Events

Parental Jobs
I spent about 3 weeks on the basement windows (it took 3 weeks because I usually couldn’t do anything on weekdays).  My sons got used to heading to the basement to help me with the windows.  The older one wanted to hammer and tape things together, while the younger one wanted to cut apart the cardboard box with the hacksaw.

After the windows were done, I overheard the boys playing upstairs one evening.  I forget what they had (stuffed animals or boxelder bugs (yes, they like playing with live bugs) or what), but they had a pretend family.

What I heard was this:
“I’m the daddy, and I’m working in the basement.”
So that’s the picture they have of something daddies do.

Then I heard this:
“I’m the mommy, and I’m talking on the phone.”
I have no clue where they got that idea.

The other night, I had dinner responsibilities so that my wife could nap.  She had a late lunch and was tired, so she postponed her dinner in favor of rest.  The boys and I were hungry and not tired, so we ate.  Dinner consisted of pancakes and eggs (leftover from earlier that day) for them and hamburger and fries (also leftover from earlier that day) for me.  I also broke out the chips and salsa.

The boys are particular about their syrup now.  They want the syrup in a bowl so it doesn’t get all over the plate.  That way they can dip whatever piece of food – preferably pancake, although I did see a piece of popcorn in there later – in the syrup and it won’t contaminate the rest of the food.  So I obliged them and poured a bit of syrup into bowls, one bowl per child.

I had to step out of the dining room into the kitchen for some reason – drink refill or put something away.  The kids were about halfway through their dinner.  When I came back, the older child informed me that the other child drank all his syrup out of his bowl.  I looked at his bowl and, sure enough, the syrup was gone.  Well, as gone as syrup can be.  It doesn’t drain very easily.

Needless to say, we didn’t have dessert that evening.

“My son, eat honey, for it is good, Yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste;”
– Proverbs 24:13

New Glass Blocks

Inspired by my brother’s success story of how well his basement was improved by glass-block windows, I decided to have glass block installed in my basement.  Also, my wife had been mentioning that it would be a good thing to do.  I called a local glass-block window installer, and he quoted $360 ($120 for the 3 windows).  In case you’re comparing your own basement windows, mine were 33 inches wide by 17 inches tall, so the glass block windows use 8 inch by 8 inch blocks, 4 wide and 2 high.

I felt like not spending that much money, so I declined his quote and decided to do it myself.  My wife, knowing how I like to start projects but not finish them, gave me a deadline of one month.  It was the beginning of October when I bought the materials, and she said if they were not installed by November 1st, I had to return the stuff to the store.  Two of the three windows were done on October 18th, and the third one was installed on the 25th, so I beat the deadline.  I just need to grout the joints of the last window, and it’s done.

Was it worth it?  I spent $98.45 per window, saving $21.55 per window or $64.65 overall.  But I spent 11 hours on the project, making my hourly rate about $5.88.  Maybe it would have been better to hire the guy.  But now I have experience installing glass block windows, and I got to spend quality time with my sons as they helped me with the project, and it’s not like I would have earned $60 more dollars if I had those 11 hours to do something else.

The main improvement is that there is now natural light in the basement.  Before, because they were so old and in bad shape, the windows were boarded over, so that room in the basement had only a single light bulb.  Now, during the day, I don’t need to turn on the light bulb because there is so much light.  The old windows were wood-framed and single-pane.  So they let in water and outside air, and let out the inside air (which, with winter starting and the furnace running, is not good).  The only thing the glass blocks let in is light.

finished glass-block window



  • glass blocks: 8 for $37.63 = $37.63 per window
  • railings: 6 for $49.74 = $16.58 per window
  • horizontal spacers: 3 for $13.05 = $4.35 per window
  • vertical spacers: 20 for $25.18 = $1.26 per spacer or $7.56 per window (plus $2.50 in waste)
  • sealant: 3 tubes for $17.64 = $5.88 per window
  • grout: $26.40 or $8.80 per window
  • lumber for  spacers: $49 = $16.33 per window
  • caulk for spacers: $3.97 or $1.32 per window

Extra items that I’ll use again so they don’t count against this project:

  • grout float: about $5
  • grout sponge: about $2


  • 2 hours (over 3 different occasions) of trips to the store to buy the materials
  • 1 hour for setup
  • 1 hour for tearing out the old windows
  • 2 hours for installing the first window
  • 1 hour for installing the second window
  • 2 hours for installing the third window
  • 2 hours for grouting

Setup consisted of opening the boxes, explaining each item to my two little helpers, taking price stickers off the windows, reading the instructions to figure out how to proceed, etc.   The glass blocks came in boxes of 8, so that was perfect for my situation.  The store sold assembled windows (a 4 by 2 block window), but they all came with the fresh-air vent, which I did not want.

The first window took a while, because of the learning curve, both of the glass-block installation procedure and also how to work with my basement window openings.  My window openings were about an inch or inch-and-a-half too big in each direction, so I had to install a board on each side to act as a spacer, making the window opening just a bit smaller so the glass blocks fit snugly.  My main problem was that the saw was upstairs in the garage, so I would measure a board, take it up to cut it, come back and install it, etc.  If I had the saw in the basement, where the work was occurring, that would have saved a lot of time.

The third window should have taken less than an hour to install, as I was getting faster with each window.  But that window had dirt piled around it outside, so I had to dig that away.  Then I discovered that the existing wood frame was rotten, from the wet dirt, so I had to cut out the rotten parts and replace them.  For the other windows I just left the existing wood and built onto it.

Here’s how much time it should take to install a window, if the opening is the right size.

  • Cut railings and horizontal spacer to length: 10 minutes
  • Install railings and glass blocks dry fit (assemble them in the window put don’t attach anything): 5 minutes
  • Attach railings with screws and then place glass blocks with sealant: 10 minutes

So really, each window takes less than a half hour to install.  It’s just the preparation work that slows it down.  The grout doesn’t count in this time because the sealant has to cure for at least 24 hours before you can grout.  So wait for all the windows to be installed and cured, then grout them all at once.



The railings and spacers are plastic.  My tip for cutting them is to start with a hacksaw and switch to a utility knife.  maybe my hacksaw was just getting dull, but it seemed like it was taking forever to cut each piece.  By the end, the method that worked best was to start the cut with the hacksaw, to get a straight line in the plastic – a groove for the utility knife to follow.  Once the groove was there, I ran the utility knife down the groove several times, attempting to bend the plastic after each run.  I guess the knife is more for scoring the piece than cutting it.  Once I could bend the plastic at the cut (the snap after the score – hey wait, this isn’t about football), the piece broke apart quite nicely and one more run of the knife finished the job.


If you have even more time than money, don’t buy the vertical spacers.  They are $1.26 per 8-inch spacer.  But they are the same as the horizontal spacers, just cut to size.  If you buy an extra 4-foot horizontal spacer and cut it yourself, it would be 40 inches / 8 inch spacers = 5 spacers for $4.35 or $0.87 per spacer.  On this project, that would have saved me (25.18 – 17.40 = 7.78).  But it would have taken at least an hour to cut the 18 pieces that I needed.  I think it’s not worth it.


The sealant gives some recommendation for how many blocks you can seal per tube, but I’ll give my experience here.  If you apply it sparingly, you could get one tube to last for 12 blocks (1.5 windows).  But I don’t recommend using it sparingly, so I suggest getting one tube for every 8 or so blocks.


For the lumber to fill the extra window space, I used 1x6s and 1/2x6s, about 27′ of length of clear pine.  That was the $49.  I could have saved some money by going for the lower grade of pine, and right now I don’t know why I didn’t.  Most of it is hidden, so it doesn’t need to be pretty.  I think I just didn’t want to be working around knots.


The grout came in a medium-size bucket.  I mixed only half the powder, and that would have been enough for at least 10 windows.  So if you buy the 15-lb bucket of grout (and that’s the only size they carry), don’t use much of it.  I estimate a full bag would be good for 160 blocks.  I expect that an open bag of grout won’t keep indefinitely (it is plastic-lined to keep out moisture), so I don’t know what the point would be of using only a quarter of the grout and saving the rest.  That’s what helps the profit margin of the construction-products companies: people buy more than what they need and throw away the excess.  In this case, I would like to have bought a smaller container of grout mix, but I couldn’t.  And I could store the extra in an airtight container and save it for the next project, but I don’t know when that will be and storage space is at a premium.  So I’m just going to dispose of the extra grout mix when I’m done with the last window.


Even if you tell yourself you’re going to be careful, do not use a standard hammer around glass block. I was trying to adjust something next to the first window, just after I had installed the last block in that window. Unfortunately, the hammer missed its target slightly and broke a newly-installed glass block. Since the sealant was only a few minutes old, I could remove the block and install another one. But, as it was broken, that set me back about a half hour – removing the pieces, cleaning out the sealant from that opening, putting in new sealant, and putting in the new block. Little pieces of broken glass and sealant are not a good combination. So use a rubber mallet, not a hammer, around glass blocks.

The light is pleasant, and {it is} good for the eyes to see the sun.

Ecclesiastes 11:7

Embryos Are People Too

With stem-cell initiatives on ballots and the election about a week away, I thought I would throw in my two cents about stem-cell research.  Not many people are against stem-cell research.  What people oppose is one source of stem cells – embryos.

There are other sources of stem cells, and adult stem cells have actual results and show progress.  Embryonic stem cells are touted as having the most potential – the possibility to cure such-and-such.  The only way to prove or disprove this potential is by experimenting with the stem cells.  If you need to experiment to discover or unlock the full potential of something, why not make that something an amoral something?  While embryonic stem cells are difficult to manage (they don’t cooperate very well), adult stem cells behave well, but with less potential.  It’s the classic trade-off: some cures now, or possibly more cures later.  Although the goal is worthy – curing diseases – the means to get there is not worthy if it involves using babies for their tissues.  Just because something can be done does not mean it should be done.

People can do all the research they want with adult stem cells, but why kill innocent children to get their stem cells?  What if a scientist approached you today and said he needed to kill you for your organs?  What if the scientific community agreed that organs from a [insert your age here]-year-old [insert your gender here] held the best potential for curing [insert disease here]?  Would that make it okay for them to end your life for the sake of research?  What’s the difference between that scenario and embryonic stem-cell research?  The only difference is age.  The embryos are zero years old, and they can’t protest or vote.

“But,” you may say, “the embryos are going to be discarded anyway.  Why not get some use out of them?”  Because people in this country are supposed to have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And our government is supposed to secure those rights for all its people – including those who are zero years old.  Should people in need of organ transplants be allowed to raid orphanages?  Incendiary wording, I know, but don’t forget this is an election year so it’s allowed by the Federal Election Commission.

So if the choice is between discarding embryos and using them for research, research wins in a lesser-of-two-evils duel.  Extra embryos are one of the bad side effects of IVF.  But there is a third choice – one that is not evil.  The embryos do not have to be discarded.  Why not let them grow into adults?  There are plenty of organizations who will handle that for you, if you have embryos that you do not want.

I have heard some election ads that use families with special-needs children, saying that special-needs children could be helped by stem-cell research.  Again, it is true that they could be helped by stem-cell research.  But does it need to be embryonic stem cell research?  Families with special-needs children are more aware that embryonic stem-cell research is wrong, because they realize that embryos are nothing less than special-needs children.

Embryos are children, and they should not be used for research.  There are plenty of ways around this issue.  If you took all the money and effort that are spent trying to promote embryonic stem cells, and put that toward finding a morally acceptable alternative, research could be advanced and people would be happy.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not of the internet itself.  Not endorsed by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

Isaiah 1:17

Not Tom

Harrison Bergeron should be required reading.  It’s a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and it helps show why personal responsibility and achievement should remain more important than government programs.  The government should protect freedom of opportunity and a level playing field, but it should not enforce equality of achievement or a level outcome.

The government should be like a referee – ensuring that everyone plays fairly, but not making every game end in a tie nor making sure the teams are evenly matched.  So be wary whenever you hear anyone, especially a politician, speak favorably about redistribution of wealth.

“For the Scripture says, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’
– 1 Timothy 5:18

In Defense of Defense

In general, playing offense is easier than playing defense.  Defense has to perfect, but offense has to be good only part of the time.  For example, in football, the offense can fail 75% of the time but still drive down the field and score.  In hockey, the offense usually takes 29 shots at the goal, but only 3 go in, and that’s good enough.  (Hockey and football – it’s a good time of year.)

I was thinking that the same principle should apply to lawyering: it should be easier to be the prosecuting attorney than the defense attorney.  But it seems that the prosecutors have a harder time, at least in the high-profile cases.  That’s because the rules are that the prosecution must be beyond a reasonable doubt, and “scoring” is not as straightforward as in sports.  In the lawyer world, you win by convincing the jury of something, and perception counts for a lot: witness credibility, character testimony, etc.  So the offense can be good, but the defense just has to create a reasonable doubt, not necessarily stop all of the offensive shots.

Or maybe it is easier to be the prosecutor.  I have no lawyerly experience, so I’ll stick to sports.  Offense is over-rated, because it’s easier.  Defenders should get more credit for the job they do.  In my opinion, the MVP of Super Bowl 34 (AKA SB XXXIV) should have been linebacker Mike Jones.  The offense gets the glory: would Charles Woodson have won the Heisman Trophy if he hadn’t played offense and returned punts too?

Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

Proverbs 31:9

Empty Windows

At work I use a laptop, and at my desk I have a second monitor.  When my laptop is at my desk, it is connected to the docking station, and I have the laptop screen and the stand-alone monitor both active.

When going to a meeting, I will close the laptop, undock it, and then open it at the meeting.  Occasionally, I am greeted by a warning when I open the laptop.  Sometimes the warning appears after I go back to my desk and re-dock.

Warning screen from Windows
Actual un-retouched screen shot of the warning
Click on the image to see it full size.

I tried to set the screen resolution to zero by zero, as Windows XP recommended, but my computer wouldn’t let me.  Plus the warning is wrong.  How could zero be the best display size?  I know I could check the box to not show the message again, but it is just so amusing to read.  And reminds me to put realistic checks in any software I write.

As with most warnings that Windows generates, I will ignore this one too.

“Surely God will not listen to an empty {cry,} Nor will the Almighty regard it.”
– Job 35:13

Slim Pickings

T. Boone Pickens’ plan needs funding.  What better way to fund all that capital than with new oil wells here in America?  But that’s not what he wants.  He wants my support to build windmills.

Why does he need support?  He’s already a billionaire who can afford to build windmills on his own.  If wind power is that much of a better deal than oil, then it should be a good business on its own and not need support from people.  How many other businesses need my support or a national advertising campaign before anything happens?

If he needs the government to do something first, that just means that my tax dollars are going to go to some billionaire.  Anytime the government has to get involved, I get suspicious.  Why does he need my support?  To get Congress or the new President to act?  Why do they need to act?  So that his plan get political preference and he can make even more money?  I don’t mind if he tries to make money, but your business should be able to work without getting the government to pass some law in your favor.

If he wants to build windmills, fine.  But why disrupt the entire transportation industry at great cost?  And to change the fuel from one non-renewable fossil fuel to another non-renewable fossil fuel?  And cause the prices for everyone else who depends on natural gas to increase?  Supply and demand says that if there is a large increase in demand (all the cars) without a large increase in supply (wind power is going to replace how many natural gas-fired power plants?), then prices for natural gas are going to increase.  That will cause problems for homes and businesses who use natural gas.  But since he owns natural gas businesses, an increase in prices is exactly what he wants.

Electric cars would be better than Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) cars, since the infrastructure is already there and cars are either being manufactured or planned on being manufactured in decent volumes.  Instead of diverting all the extra CNG to cars, have the extra wind power go to recharging plug-in electric vehicles.  Why doesn’t Mr. Pickens want to do that?  Because he already bought a bunch of CNG refueling stations, gas stations that sell CNG.  He has placed his bets and is now trying to tilt the game in his favor.

Just build some windmills and skip the ad campaign and government lobbying.

“The east wind carries him away, and he is gone, For it whirls him away from his place.”
– Job 27:21