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Thursday, 31 March 2011

My Handheld Game Consoles over the years



Behold my collection of Nintendo and Sony handheld game consoles. The original grey Gameboy from 1989 with several of the original games I bought at the time is at the top left. There was a Gameboy Pocket, smaller and lighter, but I never got one as it played the same games.

The Gameboy Color added (guess what) color to the display in 1998, but the graphics and cartridges were otherwise very similar. It wasn't long before the Gameboy Advance was released in 2000, so the Color had a short shelf life. The original Advance was an ugly shape, and fortunately an upgrade was on the way.

Nintendo launched the Gameboy SP, an improved version of the Advance console in 2002 and the SP was a tremendous improvement on the original. With a back-lit screen, built-in rechargeable battery, and folding to protect the screen so carry cases were unnecessary, this is my favorite of all the Nintendos, which is probably why I acquired multiples.

The Micro was a sidebranch to the Gameboy tree in 2005, playing the same Advance games as the SP. It couldn't play the original or Color games, which was annoying. The screen was smaller than the SP screen, and as the SP wasn't that large to begin with it wasn't a big success. I bought one fon an impulse, but it never got much use.

The Nintendo DS dropped the Gameboy name in 2004, substituting two screens, one a touchscreen activated with a  stylus, and another rather ugly design. It also reduced the size of the cartridge to something not much bigger than a camera SD card. Some games work really well with the stylus, but in many it's an annoying nuisance, and actually rendered a few unplayable to me. Fortunately the DS lite came out in 2006, a much tidier design, with the same size screen. The DS Lite could still play all previous games right back to the original titles too, thanks to having two cartridge slots.

The DSi added a camera, which I've never used on my DSi XL, but got rid of the second cartridge slot so it could only play DS games. The XL has a 93% bigger screen than the DS, and importantly for me the battery light goes from green to blue instead of red when the power is low. In almost every previous generation (except the Micro) I've either had warning from Beth when the power was dying, or a sudden blank screen, very annoying when you haven't saved your game recently.

The Sony PSP at the front is not the first generation, but there are far fewer games available for this unit, and most of the ones I want I buy online as they are not usually titles carried in stores. I resisted buying one until Final Fantasy Tactics "The War of the Lions" came out for this, as tactical RPGs are my favorite style of game for handhelds. Thus my library of Sony PSP games is much smaller than my library of DS games, but there are some gems there which I could not play any other way. The UMD disk is a rather clumpy device to load and I broke the back on one PSP when I dropped it while putting in the disk. You can buy movie disks to watch on the PSP, but I've never bothered.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Buying into the Digital R-Evolution

A few weeks ago at work I processed the contract for a Smartphone for a young gentleman, whose bill was going to be around $80 a month. My total talk and text usage last year cost me $30, about $2.50 a month, and my phone cost $20. This got me thinking about the various digital consumer technologies that have appeared in my lifetime, and my relationship with and adoption of them.

Cellphones aka Mobile phones: I've had four cellphones in my life. The first, a Phillips, I soon sold on to my parents and got another. I was on a Orange plan, because it was the only Pay-as-you-Go plan that did not delete your unused minutes after a certain time period had elapsed. My initial £50 of airtime lasted over a year. My second phone, a Nokia, set the pattern for getting Nokia phones, and every phone I've had since was a Nokia.

That first Nokia phone had the fun feature of being able to compose your own ringtones using a special shorthand, but unfortunately didn't have a vibrate function, and the ring was very quiet. I missed most of the few calls people made to me, simply because I didn't hear the ring when the phone was stashed in an inside coat pocket. This ultimately led to the loss of this phone when I couldn't find it, and couldn't hear it ringing anywhere in the house. Just before we moved to America I found it in the a boardgame box, where I must have tidied it away. The loss of this phone led to my third cellphone purchase, a very similar Nokia 3210,  much slimmer and lighter (technology had moved on), with a louder ring and a vibrate feature (hurrah) but also no compose ringtones feature.

That phone I still have, but needed a new one when we moved to the US, and Beth found a T-Mobile plan where you get 1 year's airtime and 1,000 minutes for $100. The phone was a separate purchase, and I got the cheapest lightest $20 Nokia I could find. 1,000 minutes doesn't sound a lot to people who go through more than that in a month, but I used around 300 minutes (total talk and text) in a year. By adding $10 to my account I was able to carry over the unused minutes, so I started 2011 with 800 minutes of available talk and text time.

I use my phone, as I have always used cellphones, for emergency contact only. I can't talk on the phone at work or driving, don't need to at home, and it's main use is so Beth can text me if something comes up (e.g. need to buy milk or cat food).

Smartphones: A smartphone is a cellphone with internet access provided through a 3G cellphone network. Some people love them, such as the $80 a month gentleman, but I haven't seen the need as I have internet access at home. 3G is defined as a certain speed of information transfer, and 4G is already on the way in.

Video Games: I fondly remember the day (sometime in 1977?) my father came home with a videogame console. He is prone to spontaneous bursts of generosity like this, for I can't recall either myself or my brothers asking for one (he may remember differently), but we spent many happy hours playing Pong, Hockey, Skeet Shooting and the like. The games were all built in, and limited to white graphics on  black background. A year or two later I saw my first Space Invaders ArcadeGame at a Youth Hostel on the shores of Loch Lomond, in color, though the colors were just colored filters stuck to the screen.

Home Computers: Sometime soon after, still in the early 80s, my mother bought us a BBC micro computer, one of the first generation of home computers.  The idea was, I suppose, that we would learn to program computers, but as I recall we mostly played text-based adventure games like Snowball, and a fantastic open-ended space adventure game called Elite, with wire-frame graphics. At school I was just too old to learn on the first generation of PCs, and my early computer experience came on the school's mainframe accounts computer, far from ideal but a lot better than nothing.

At University my access to computers was mostly limited to using the Library's system to access Reuters for news stories. In my final year someone bought a computer to write their essays and assignments on, but for personal organisation the FiloFax was the thing, not a laptop or smartphone.

After University I grew closer to my eldest brother Richard as we shared an interest in gaming, comics and Manga, and we spent most Saturdays together, the mornings at comic shops, the afternoons and evenings at a Roleplaying club. We also worked together as he got me a job where he worked at a small magazine publishing company, which used Apple computers. He it was who introduced my to the Internet, and got me my first email account through a company called compuserve.

Nothing has impacted the way we run our lives more than the home computer. Apart from video games, I use mine for spreadsheets, organising my digital photos, music, video files, and of course internet access, without which you would not be reading this. The fact that you are reading this suggests you have also adopted a computer as a regular part of your life.


Portable Game Systems: One Saturday in the early 90s my eldest brother and I went to a game shop and bought ourselves Nintendo Gameboys, with 4 or 5 games each. In addition to Tetris that came with the unit, I recall Battle Bull and Nobunaga's Ambition as two of those initial purchases, and I still have those games and all their packaging. Other friends had gone for the Atari Lynx and Sega Gamegear, but these burnt through batteries at an eye-watering rate, and we were happy with the simpler graphics but better battery life. My middle brother had a handheld space invaders style game some years before, and at the time it was a great unit, but it only played one game. The Gameboy allowed different games to be played with different cartridges, and the latest Nintendo handheld console, released earlier this week, now sports 3D graphics.

I've continued my interest with videogames mostly through Nintendo handheld devices over the intervening years, and also have a Sony PSP (short for Play Station Portable). I used to have a Sony Play Station, followed by a Play Sation 2, and for a year we had a Nintendo Wii, but all these consoles had to go when we moved to the US and have not been replaced. We play PC games at home, and I use my Nintendo DSi and Sony PSP, and Beth has a Nintendo DSi and uses her iPod Touch to play solitaire.

eBooks: An eBook is a dedicated device for downloading electronic books. There are various ones about, the Nook and Kindle being popular, but I've not bothered to buy into this technology. I have shelves full of books already when I want to read, and prefer the feel of paper in my hand and turning real pages. Besides this most of the books I read are for reference, and not available as digital copies anyway.

HDTV:  I'm old enough to recall when a TV which had a dial for tuning to the three available channels, and when I bought my own TV in London, had the same ex-rental 24" screen cathode ray tube TV for over 15 years. Arriving in the US we needed a new TV, and by 2009 you couldn't buy a non-HDTV flatscreen even if you wanted to.

HDTV stands for high definition, which means the TV displays more horizontal lines (720 or 1080) than a conventional tube TV (which had around 525 lines for NTSC, the US standard, and 625 for PAL, the UK system).  However unless you have an HD input (via terrestrial broadcasts, cable, satellite or Blu-Ray player) the picture you see is not HD. At present the cable and satellite companies charge extra for HD channels so we don't bother, and Blu-Rays are still generally more expensive than DVDs, so we haven't invested in one of those either. I'm sure that in time HD will become the standard, but until it does we may have an HDTV, but we're not usually watching HDTV. When we watch DVDs the picture is upscaled to near-HD quality by some technical wizardry in our DVD players.

Cable and Satellite Broadcasting: Alongside HDTV, the way we receive broadcasts has changed. In the UK I had cable for a while, but felt I was paying a lot for not watching much and eventually dropped it. Beth and I lived with a Freeview box for the rest of our time in the UK. A Freeview box is a set-top box purchased for around £30 that is capable of receiving many more channels (around 30) than the terrestrial broadcasts alone (five channels by the time we left the UK). Once you've paid for the box your viewing is free, except for the annual TV license fee. We had a freeview box with built in hard drive, so we could record hours of TV and watch at our leisure. We found that we recorded more than we had time to watch, but it was a very useful device.

In the US there is no Freeview system, but unless you are happy with the basic 6-8 local digital broadcast accessible through a digital antenna, you need to subscribe to cable or satellite TV. This is going to cost you an arm, and if you want HD channels a leg too.

3D TV: This is starting to come in, and customers ask me about it occasionally at work, but there are very few 3D sources, so there's not much you can watch in 3D. There's currently about 60 3D films available, and a handful of channels. To me it's a gimmick, and when a movie comes out in 3D I only watch the 2D version at the cinema anyway. You still have to put on special eyewear to watch 3D (also assuming you have a 3D TV and a 3D source), but the technology is being developed to do away with this annoyance. Will 3D become the standard some day? I hope not, but if it does it's years away yet. Yesterday one of my colleagues proudly told me about his 3DTV purchase, and his library of eight 3D titles.

Record Players, Audio Cassettes, CDs, Mini-Disks, Sony Walkman, MP3 players, iPod, and iTouch: I never had many vinyl records of my own (though my parents had a family record player and collection), because by the time I had money to spend on such things tapes has already taken over. At University I used audiotapes to both play and record, and bought my first tape-to-tape cassette recorder with a win from the Premium Bonds in my first year away from home, but CDs and other audio options were already coming in.  Prior to cassette tapes I mostly listened to the radio for aural entertainment, on a clock radio that woke me every day for school.

I resisted CDs for a long time, mostly because I had invested so much in audiotapes, but also because CDs were very expensive. The Walkman was a portable cassette playing device, and later models had radio receivers as well, so now we could have music and audio entertainment on the move. I went through several Walkmen (and similar devices) in my post-University years, because they received a lot of knocks. One problem was that, though the player was not much bigger than the cassette inside, you would need several cassettes to have listening options.

Car stereos have developed alongside Walkmans and portable CD players, illustrated by the fact that my wife's 2002 car has a cassette player, while my 2007 car has a CD player with auxiliary input. This means I can plug an MP3 player straight into my stereo, while Beth uses a device like a cassette tape with an audio jack hanging out of it on a wire.

Alongside CDs, my wife and I both briefly and independantly (as we didn't know each other at the time) had Mini-disk players. The advantage of these over CD players was that you could record your own (until home computers gave that option for CDs), and indeed few commercially available pre-recorded minidisks ever existed. The disks were smaller and better protected than CDs, so easier to carry around.

I recorded many of my old cassette tapes onto minidisk to preserve them and make them more portable, but before long another option became available - MP3. Actually MP3 is only one form or digitally recorded audio file, but has become the quick reference name for any form of digital audio file. Digital media has the massive advantages of reproduceability and portability, though some say the audio quality is not as good as CD, and CD is not as good as vinyl. I really can't hear any difference.

When I invested in my first MP3 player I wanted one that could record as well as play, as I am an amateur musician. This wrote off all the iPod offerings, but (after a friend's recommendation) in 2002-3 I bought an iRiver iHP-140. This machine had a 40GB hard drive, a massive amount at the time, so it could hold a LOT of recordings, but more importantly I could transfer my cassettes, minidisks, and CDs onto it, and after a little editing, have them in an even more portable and robust form. I spent much of the next 5 years copying my precious tape, CD and mini-disk collection via the iRiver, editing and saving the tracks on my PC, plus a back-up external hard drive.

This wasn't part of any bigger plan, other than saving material in digital (and thus more transportable) format, but when Beth and I decided to move to the US it was much easier to carry my entire audio collection in a device that fit in my pocket, or clipped onto my belt. By that time I had replaced the iRiver with an iPod (though I still have the iRiver as a backup), and I carried the data in three places, the iPod, an external hard drive, and my PC's hard drive. I chose 160GB iPod Classic for its storage capacity, and I use it every day.

Digital Cameras and Camcorders: Digital photography has greatly impacted my photographic habits. It used to cost about 25p to print a single picture, and until it was printed there was no knowing if it was worth printing. I spent several years in the '90s and '00s doing long distance walks and conservation holidays, and during these years a digital camera would have been very welcome. Unfortunately I didn't have one, but soon after Meeting Beth for the first time (June 2003) I was converted to the idea, and bought my first digital camera, a Pentax Optio S4 (after seeing Beth's one). The delight of this model was that it fit into a shirt pocket, so there was rarely an excuse NOT to have a camera handy.

 After a few years and several drops the S4 started playing up and was replaced by a Pentax S6, and when that started playing up a year ago, Beth and I bought Sony Cybershots. That is, Beth decided to get one, after weeks of painstaking online research, and I jumped on the bandwagon. Thus we have matching cameras (one black, one silver) which also act as camcorders. I bought a separate Panasonic camcorder in 2009 for a trip to France, but have never been good at making videos except for special occasions.

VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray: I was probably fortunate that I never had time to build up an expensive library of VHS videotapes before DVDs took over as the primary medium for purchasing films and TV shows. It was no real hardship to shed the few videotapes I had when we started planning our move, and copy the special ones to DVD. DVDs are artificially regionalized (via codes on the DVD and software in the DVD player) to prevent the global marketplace from being truly free (because truly free markets apparently don't really work), but it is easy to either buy a de-regionalised DVD player, or de-regionalize one yourself. We've done both in our time, because our DVD library has always been a mix of US and UK titles.

Blu-Ray is another matter, and we haven't yet made the step up. Just as people who have an extensive VHS library hate having to upgrade to DVD and resist the cost, trouble and frustration, so we are for now ignoring Blu-Ray. Blu-Ray does give better picture sharpness, but at present there's still an additional cost of around 15-20% over the cost of the same movie on DVD, and in any case we don't buy many new titles. No doubt we will one day buy a Blu-Ray player and start buying Blu-Rays, but as long as DVDs are still freely available and cheaper we'll stick with those.
GPS: We didn't buy a GPS navigation system until we arrived in the US to stay, but after that we both bought units for our cars and use them for many non-standard trips. Having experience of Garmin from a trip to Scotland, sharing the driving with my brother, we stuck with what we knew and both got Garmin units. You can pick up a GPS for a car for $79, though we invested a little more to get more features, and the units have served us well and features in this blog several times.

Streetlighting

We enjoy seeing the stars at night, and London has two disadvantages for the casual stargazer. First, the tall buildings physically blocked the view, and second the street lights blinded the eye. There is also the indirect glare of badly designed street lights throwing light up into the night sky.

Eugene is far, far darker than London, both on the main roads I drive regularly like River Road,  Beltline and Northwest Expressway, and on the local suburban streets, but light pollution is still a problem. In our cul-de-sac the street lighting is provided by the houses themselves, with no lamp posts. This was a canny move by the city to make the residents pay for street lighting, but it affords us the opportunity to reduce the problem.

Our house has two lanterns, one either side of the garage door, which happily for us were set to hold three  small bulbs each. This was probably a modification by the previous owners so they could use colored bulbs at Christmas, as other houses in the street can only fit one normal-sized bulb in each of their 2-3 lanterns. We recently switched to leaving just one bulb on in each lantern, and the total 8 Watts of light is ample to light the house at night - particularly as my car is fitted with lights anyway, and I've never yet failed to find my way home for lack of light.

That fixed our problem, and our neighbors on one side have taken their bulbs out entirely as a trial, and their house is still visible at night too. The other neighbors haven't yet been approached, and they have a couple of hundred watts burning away all night.

A quick calculation shows that using 3 x 60 watt bulbs to light a house for 8 hours a night for a year uses 520 KWhours more electricity than our 8 watt glare. From EWEB's website (our energy provider) this would be about $62 a year.  That's not going to break the bank alone, but adding up savings like this by turning off unnecessary lighting and other appliances all helps.

Our primary motivation is not really the cost, of course, but cutting down on light pollution.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Monsterous Trucks

Americans love a big vehicle. I took these photos back in early April 2010 just before we moved house but never got round to posting them.



This truly monsterous truck caught my eye, as I trust it has now caught yours. The owner was sitting on his balcony as we took photos and we chatted a while. On one level I admire these sorts of trucks, but with gas now topping $3.70 at the pumps in Eugene, this one burns a dollar of gas every 3 miles. If I drove one of these, my first hour at work each day would just pay for the commute. The car behind is a normal-sized saloon, and barely comes up to the top of the bumpers.


A side effect of over-bigging your truck is that it won't fit in the garage. We like to park a car in  the garage, and it's easier for unloading shopping. Not everyone uses their garage as a garage of course, but it's nice to have the option. This picture and the two below were taken on a walk round a subdivision north of our old apartment complex.



The advertisements for trucks such as these emphasise their ability to pull tree stumps out of the ground, or haul huge rocks or a spare truck engine with minimal effort, but these are not common endeavours for most owners. For daily life, commuting, shopping trips and so on, I can't help feeling that they're impractical and unnecessary. The pick-up bed is usually empty, and as it's also open to the elements in most cases, still isn't used in bad weather for hauling furniture or a new 55" flat screen TV.  Far cheaper and more practical to hire a U-Haul van for those rare occasions when a big haulage space is required.


The covered pickup such as this one is slightly more useful, at the cost of hauling around yet more weight, converting the truck into a big station wagon (estate car). This one looks too long for the garage.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Shoes

Bunions, corns, cracked heels, athlete's foot, hammer toes, in-grown toenails.

Modern shoes, and particularly women's high-heeled shoes, are sadly more a product of fashion than practicality or necessity, and are rather bad for feet, reducing them to clumping appendages rather than moving muscled pieces of nature's sculptured engineering. Who has not enjoyed the feeling of walking barefoot in grass or sand, and regretted having to don some hateful stiff-soled footwear afterwards? Or slipped off their day shoes and put on soft slippers with a sigh of relief?

Actually the problem goes further, as poor fitting or designed shoes affect balance and posture, and cramping feet inhibits development. You can read more about the medical research here , and the effects of shoes on your feet and the benefits of going barefoot, or as near as is practical, here, here, here, and here .

I once worked with a South African girl who spent her youth playing and running barefoot on a farm. As a consequence her toes were spaced out rather than curled and clumped together as toes become in shoes. She wore open sandals when she had to wear anything, and would slip those off under her desk at the first opportunity. However it's not really safe to walk around barefoot in a city environment, especially if one hasn't been accustomed to do so from birth, so some form of foot covering is still desireable - some alternative to traditional shoes that offers protection from cuts and scratches, but allows the foot to move as nature intended, for the toes to spread and grip, the arch to be supported by muscles, the ball and heel to work together as cushions, your toes to push you forward rather than the curve of your shoes.

It is in the slightly-Hippy nature of Oregon that an alternative to traditional shoes should be manufactured locally, and in the open-minded nature of Beth that she should learn about this and give it a try. A couple of months ago we visited Soft Star Shoes, about an hour's drive North in Corvallis. Here over 25 years ago they started making soft moccasin-style shoes for toddlers and children, and due to public demand expanded the range to include adult sizes. Beth bought one pair on the spot and ordered a second pair (which they didn't have in stock).


Behold the soft star shoes, which Beth has worn almost every day since. These moccasins are soft and pliable, allowing your feet to breathe and do more of the work of walking. It takes a week or so to adjust, but Beth stuck with it and now only wears normal shoes for gardening and in the woodshop, and then only to save her Soft Star Shoes from excessive wear and tear.

Where Beth leads I often follow, and yesterday I drove up to Corvallis and bought a pair for myself, ordering a second pair (with slightly thicker soles for trail walking) to be posted to me when ready.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Karate

Since September last year Beth has been attending a twice-weekly hour-long class at the Eugene School of Karate, located perversely in Springfield, but only fifteen to twenty minutes drive from her office and our house.

Beth was first introduced to Karate when she, her mother and brother all started together when she was around ten, but she was on her own in the kids' class while her brother and mother were together in the adult class. As a result she dropped it before gaining any belts.

She started again in College, and gained a yellow belt in six months, but stopped at that point when academic studies and other interests took precedence.

She's been wanting to get back into Karate ever since, but the discomforts of travel and timing in London prevented her while we lived there. Her two options were a school in Southall which would have required leaving work early, or in King's Cross which would have resulted in getting home very late. The curse of trying to do extra-curricular activities in London is the combination of hanging around for the class to start while everybody arrives, and the discomfort of getting home again afterwards by public transport which can take a couple of hours on a bad day.



Karate has many different branches, but they all start with a White Belt for novices. Beth's previous Yellow Belt was in a different style so she started again at White in September. Here she is sparring with a regular partner, before getting her new Yellow Belt in December.


A couple of weeks ago I was available to go along with her and take some photos and video of her training, and Beth was able to use these to help with technique. This evening she taked the exam for her Blue Belt, but unfortunately I'll be at work and consequently unable to watch.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Beth's Woodshop


One of the reasons we fell in love with this house was the extra double garage building it offered. The first owner was a builder, and when the plots were still being drawn up he managed to extend the property to allow space for the extra garage, which he then built around 2005. The extra building adds a little more privacy to our garden, and houses Beth's Woodshop below and a spare room above which houses my Playmobil collection.

Most Americans who want a woodshop or workshop, including our immediate neighbors and others in the subdivision, have to sacrifice their regular garage or some part of it. Our separate building keeps the noise and dust away from the main house, and frees up the regular garage to be... a garage.


With her usual premeditation and efficiency Beth started planning the shop layout from the day we moved in. Using cardboard from our packing she laid out the pattern of where machines would go for maximum access and ease of moving pieces from one machine to another. In the picture above there's just one machine in place, a lathe generously donated by our friend Mack, and driven home from Grand Junction in Colorado. 


Beth added new machines as they became affordable (there are always sales and offers going on), checking out garage sales as well for possible additions, until the woodshop is now fully equipped. There's a drill press, joiner, planer, scrollsaw, tablesaw, band saw, mitre saw, grinding wheel, air filter, dust collector, the big lathe and a mini lathe, router, a belt/disc sander, oscillating spindle sander, shop vac, and two workbenches, and some shelves for storing wood pieces and projects.


All this makes it much easier to put together a quick project. One of Beth's early ones was this bottle balancer, a bit of fun and a conversation piece for dinner parties.


Of more practical use to us (as we don't drink wine) is this cap stand, made entirely from scrap wood in four hours. Beth looked one up on the internet and designed this from the pictures.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

New Kenmore Dishwasher

For the last year we've been living with a Frigidaire Ultraquiet 111 dishwasher, that came with the house and was no doubt the standard fit ten years ago when the house was built. It's never been impressive, occasionally leaving gritty deposits on glasses and plates, and it's hard to recognise when rinseaid needs to be topped up as there's no visible indicator. A small orange LED is always on no matter what the machine is doing. It may be that the fitted appliances in the house are starting to wear out (our neighbour's microwave gave out recently), or it may be that this was never a very good model. I read some online reviews and have never seen so many damning comments on an appliance before.

Thus we went to Sears to check out their dishwasher options. Beth, as usual, had done some prior online research, so it didn't take long to select a Kenmore Elite that suited our needs and pocket. Sears have regular sales, and we time our purchases to match. We bumped into our neighbours there, choosing a replacement microwave, which I helped fit last week. With the current sale prices , and a points reward from last year's purchases (chest freezer, mini-fridge, washer and dryer) it came to around $685 including installation and removal of the old dishwasher.

Today is the great installation day, and having been woken soon after six am by a playful young cat, I decided to uninstall the Frigidaire myself and get things ready. Two screws held the the dishwasher to the underside of the counter, and once those were removed it was easy to slide the old unit most of the way out of its niche. There are three connections for a dishwasher; electric, hot water, and waste water. The first was hard-wired which surprised me as in the UK I'd expected a plug and socket, but maybe the power required is too much for the regular ring main. It was easy to locate the specific trip fuse for the dishwasher (our fuses are tucked in a garage wall), and at last the light on the front went out. Then I needed to remove a baseplate from the front of the washer to access the mains wire, but once I could see what to do it was quickly disconnected.

The hoses for hot water and waste water were simpler, being connected under the sink. Hot water comes in via a steel wrapped hose which has a shut off valve and required a 5/8" wrench (spanner) to undo. The waste water goes out through a translucent white hose connected with jubilee clips (not sure what the US term is) each end. I removed both hoses and stored them in the sink for possible re-use.

At this point Beth came down ready for work and helped me carry the unit into the garage. I wanted to check whether we'd need to remove any doors in the utility room, but at a standard 24" width and depth there was plenty of room. A dishwasher is mostly an empty box, much lighter than a  fridge or stove of the same dimensions would be, so we got it out without too much fuss, though there are no handholds at the back of the unit and Beth had a little trouble gripping it. A bit of water also spilled out on the kitchen floor as we moved it, but with some paper towels we were able to prevent it running into the dining room carpet.

An hour or so later the installer arrived with the new machine. He was very pleased to see the outstallation already done, and had the new machine in and connected up within an hour.

Our new dishwasher is a Kenmore Elite, with a better washing action, better water and energy efficiency, and no stupid light except when it's running. The old unit had a dial to activate but this one has buttons, one button to select standard cycle, and toggle buttons for the various options.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Doing a Blinding Job

Our dining room has a 6' wide patio window which allows in a huge amount of light, but a little too much in the Summer, so we wanted to fit some blinds. There was already a track fitted, but the previous owner had taken the actual blinds with them, so I needed to find some new ones that would fit.

A quick trip to Jerry's, our local family-owned DIY superstore, and I found the variety I needed. These plastic blinds come in packets of 9, but oddly our blind track had 29 hooks, so I'd need 4 packets to do every hook. I decided to get 3 packets and leave one hook empty at each end instead. There were two plain versions at $9.99 a packet, white and alabaster, and a number of more fancy textured ones, but as the textures tripled the price again my decision was simple. White or Alabaster? White would show every speck of dust, so (with Beth's advice) I chose Alabaster.

The next decision was whether to have the blinds cut down. Jerry's offer this service onsite so you can have the blinds fit any length of window. The packet specified 84" long, but I'd already measured the drop on our blinds at a little over 82". Aha, but these blinds are not really 84" long, they're designed to fit an 84" window frame. No need to cut them down then, so I purchased 3 packets and tootled home.

After a little puzzlement over how to remove the blinds from the aluminium hook of the packaging, I got the blinds free and started hanging them. The job couldn't have been easier, just push each blind into the hook fitting until it clicks into place and onto the next one. In less than 5 minutes the job was finished.



Blinds fully closed


 
drawn but open


tucked away


Half drawn


And that was that. I should have done this a year ago, but I was expecting the job to be harder.

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