A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

A Sturm's Eye View

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 5 February 2001

Last Thursday I wrote about an anomaly between the drawings and The House of Steel in regards to framing timber sizes. I realised that the drawings referred to 90 by 45 mm timber but we were using 90 by 35 mm! So, I phoned the engineer and for once he was available when I phoned. He did some calculations and said that we will need to nail a second stud to each one that's over 3 m in height. The 100 by 50 mm studs specified in the bedroom wall would have been radiata pine. Why we'd want to use crappy pine in one small part of the house and hardwood throughout the rest of the house only the architect knows.

The error has added almost $A3,000 to the cost and a lot of extra weight to the walls. Around half the studs are more than 3 m (10 ' high). We lowered the one we erected Thursday and added the extra lumber. It stiffened the wall considerably. And that's a gratifying feeling, extra stiffness in an erection.

Despite the unexpected expense I'm glad we discovered yet another problem before it became a real chore to fix. I'm starting to wonder how many other WTFs are in store. Luckily the timber supplier can deliver within a week. Another stroke of luck is we've been offered the use of some proper scaffolding for free, so we won't have to improvise.

A friend dropped a newly acquired computer by so I could fix a problem of CD-ROM not found messages under Win95. "The computer doesn't have a CD ROM," I told him. I'll install my spare and he can use that while I have one delivered. I do wish my friends wouldn't buy shoddy second hand computers!

Thought for the day:

Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs.

Mario Andretti


Tuesday 6 February 2001

A slightly hotter day today. There's a haze of smoke from the February Dragon (bushfires) but local this time I think. We had smoke last week from Port Lincoln in South Australia 850 miles away. Yesterday we nearly had a fire of our own. The sparks from the angle grinder set fire to grass I cut on Friday. It was about 10 m (30 feet) away from where Tony was cutting steel. Luckily I noticed the plume of smoke and we had stamped it out in a couple of minutes.

I've mentioned before problems with the plans for The House of Steel. Today's was the lack of a wall height for the next wall we want to build. However, it's a matter of simple trigonometry to calculate it based on the height of the wall we built yesterday and the distance from it. The slope of the roof is exactly 3 in 40. While the curved and sloping roof is around normal ceiling height of 2.4 m (8 ft) at the low points, it's as high as 4 m (13 ft) in places. I have memories of living in Melbourne 30 odd years ago and the house we lived in had high ceilings. Very cool on hot days like today.

The day ends with a third wall built and erected. Fran and I worked much more efficiently together today. We are becoming a team. He tells me he had a chat about The House of Steel with the chap building across the street from where he lives. He had come over for Fran to sharpen a drill bit. He is a professional builder and expressed amazement that anyone would even consider trying to build a house like Fran and I are building. While it's challenging, it's also a great deal of fun.

There was a message on the telephone answering machine from an employment contractor. Damn! I already have a job: building my House of Steel. I hope it's not something I'd really like to do! Or it doesn't start until April.

A very interesting viewpoint on the relative merits of the modern major Operating Systems.

Thought for the day:

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

Winston Churchill


Wednesday 7 February 2001

Today, even my aches have aches. I'm feeling all of my 49 years. So, to read something worth thinking about try Mark Zimmerman's ^zhurnal! I find his writing stimulating.

Tomorrow promises to be very hot and windy so I'll likely find time for a proper post in the afternoon.

Thought for the day:

The courage of the truth is the first condition of philosophic study.

Georg Hegel


Thursday 8 February 2001

As promised by the Weather Bureau, today was 38C and 65% humidity. Despite the perspiration running in torrents off our bodies, we managed to erect the front bedroom wall. Then the zincalume cladding and steel purlins arrived. The truck driver made a few half-hearted attempts to turn into the driveway, then gave up. So I had him offload the materials onto the grass verge by the road. Neville and I will carry the purlins and cladding up the drive to the house tomorrow.

Marguerite and Thomas spent the morning in the city, buying books for college and shopping for those little things that rural stores don't carry. Like $A3,200 of polished granite countertops for the kitchen. It was my fault, really. When Marguerite visited a new friend's kitchen the other day, she was astounded by the beauty of their granite counters. I had already seen them and kept quiet about it. The problem is, if you can afford them, there is no better material for the job.

Granite is hard, so it's almost impossible to scratch. It doesn't wear at any significant rate. The polished surface is almost completely impermeable to any substance likely to be used in a kitchen. It's hygienic because there are no fissures or pores to harbour noxious bacteria. And when I was phoning for the quote, I mentioned to the salesman that I was building the house I am going to die in. So he offered to put the inscription for my grave on the underside of one of the counters so I wouldn't be continually reminded of the date of my death. Funeral directors may lack humour, but monumental masons make up for that! And I'm a sucker for anyone that can amuse me.

Around three years ago, we purchased a Bosky cook stove second hand for a saving of several thousand dollars. Bosky's wood burning cook stoves are pretty much the Rolls Royce of cookers and as enthusiastic cooks, we knew that was the most important element of our dream home. It's been sitting in Wayne and Tony Walker's apple shed ever since. I phoned Tony and arranged for him to deliver it late next week before the final wall is in place. It weighs something North of 500 kg (half a ton) and is therefore difficult to manoeuvre up or down steps. Much easier to build around it.

Despite that Fran is a Christian and I'm not, we have very similar attitudes toward life. Today I mentioned in passing that one of the reasons I cannot become a Christian is that I could never commit to an unthinking belief in a book (the Bible) that is so riddled with obvious contradiction and nonsense (as well as plenty of good sense). I quoted Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Fran explained this by saying that it's the behaviour of family members who still live wicked lives that you hate after accepting Christ.

That I can accept, but it flies in the face of the current tendency of most Christians I come across to insist on a literal belief, rather than personal interpretation.

My other great concern has always been that to a great extent, I live a life that Christians profess to live: I cannot find hatred in my heart for anyone, I share my blessings with my fellow men and women, I envy no-one and I take the slings and arrows of life as just part of everyday living in paradise. Most of the Christians I meet seem consumed by unhappiness at being forced to live in what they perceive as a vale of woe and are remarkable for their absence in community works.

Fran then told me a wonderful story told by a fellow Gideons member who visited a town where he was a stranger. He told his host he could identify Christians just by seeing them. The host expressed disbelief so they went to a local shopping mall where the visitor proceeded to point out those he believed were regular churchgoers. The host was astounded; he knew almost everyone that was pointed out and they indeed regularly attended church. So he asked how the visitor could possibly do this.

"Easy," said the visitor, "I just pointed out the people with a miserable expression on their faces."

And that's why Fran no longer attends the church he used to, but instead meets with his friends in Gideons. I used to find it strange that Fran could ever associate with some of the members of the church he used to attend. Of one of those church members, a neighbour once said, "He'd sell his own mother if hadn't already done so!"

So when the Bible bashers (who are generally remarkably ignorant of the contents of the Book they promote) come by inviting me to share their misery, I refuse.

Thought for the day:

Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.

Mark Twain


Friday 9 February 2001

Thomas, Neville and myself spent four sweaty hours shifting the steel purlins and corrugated iron up the drive to near where they will be needed. Neville and I started with the longest sheets of corrugated iron while the air was still. Nine metres (almost 30 ft) of corrugated iron makes a big enough sail that the lightest breeze will carry it off in a blink of an eye. A breeze came up just as Neville and Thomas were carrying the last of the shorter lengths. The breeze was welcome while carrying the purlins as it helped evaporate the sweat. Thomas worked harder at this than any other House of Steel task so far, so he received $A50 for his effort as did Neville.

I ordered the marine plywood for the gutter that runs through the centre of the house. It is 1.5 m (5 ft) wide and was meant to be covered by steel zincalume sheet. The problem with this is that the steel sheet comes only in 1.2 m wide rolls and would need to be attached to the underlying plywood in order to keep the required shape. Laying 1.2 m sheets across the gutter overlapping like shingles creates a potential entry point for rain. A bead of silicone would prevent this, but the different rates of expansion of the steel sheet and plywood might cause failure of a bond between the two. My solution to this conundrum is to forget the steel sheet and coat the plywood with a flexible marine paint.

I contacted the Australian distributor of International Paints by email as we will be harvesting the rainfall for our water supply and I wanted assurance of its suitability. Within half an hour, I had a reply to my message! The main International Paints website was useless. I have Java etc turned off in my browser so the single link on the main page didn't work! I found the above link through a more specific Google search. The paint and epoxy filler will cost around $A350, so it's comparable to the cost of the steel when folding and marine grade silicone is taken into account. The required 27 sheets of 1.2 by 1.8 m marine ply came to $A2,250. While this is an expensive gutter, cleaning it will be a breeze. I will be able to walk down it with a broom.

The inspiration for the eclectic house design was to echo the surrounding hills. It's like the junction of two adjacent hills. Some refer to its shape as akin to wings. The metaphor that Fran is using compares it to an open book. And that's my favourite! The House of Steel will indeed be a house of books, frequently opened.

Thought for the day:

A conventional good read is usually a bad read, a relaxing bath in what we know already. A true good read is surely an act of innovative creation in which we, the readers, become conspirators.

Malcolm Bradbury


Saturday 10 February 2001

Marguerite and I went shopping today. First we went to Brewsters to pay for the marine plywood for the gutter. Since my phone call, they had decided to give me a 20% discount, rather than 10%! I asked Max if I could look at some metal lath used for attaching Gyprock (sheetrock) to ceilings and walls. I needed to see if it was flexible enough to bend to the curve of our ceilings. Max showed it to me but recommended I buy from John Cowley. I told him that since I was buying the Gyprock from John, that was my intention. Max is one of the old school who believe that customer service is good for business.

Our next port of call was The Fibreglass Shop where Peter assisted us to purchase the paints for the plywood. Peter is young and knowledgeable and also pleasant to do business with.

So, it was on to the plumbing supplies. Janice Shepherd manages the Hobart branch of Robert Fergusson and over a period of more than an hour we manage to learn the important points of difference between various brands/designs of taps, toilets and troughs. We left with a bundle of brochures and prices having yet to decide on taps (faucets). The toilets we have pretty much decided on are on special and there are only three left in stock (we need two). I said I'd phone Monday to let her know my decision.

You may remember my learning about the propensity for recent toilets to have difficulty flushing excreta efficiently. I noticed that this would not be a problem with the toilet we like, though it's twice the price of the el cheapos in hardware stores. Monday will be phone calls around the three rival plumbing suppliers to compare prices. My inclination is to purchase from Fergusson's as Janice seemed far more interested in our needs than the assistants at the other two suppliers we have visited. I need to push for a discount on our plumbing purchase since none has yet been offered and the cost looks like reaching $A5,000 if I don't. The plumber tells me that $A5,000 is the typical total plumbing bill for a house our size including his work and materials!

After an excellent lunch of focaccia for me and a gourmet sandwich for Marguerite, we headed to the wharf for The Wooden Boat Festival. I photographed the replica of the Bark Endeavour that Captain James Cook sailed in to discover Australia, unaware that the aborigines had discovered it several thousands of years before by sailing across the Timor Sea. I was quite taken by finding a dinghy with a Seagull outboard motor and photographed that. Following the last World War, a factory in England that was to be closed after the necessity for it had disappeared, was taken over by the women working there. The product they chose to manufacture was the British Seagull outboard motor. Or so I am told.

Turning toward the city we saw a dense plume of smoke coming from the other side of Mount Wellington and decided to head toward home. While the bushfire was far distant from our road, the possibility that the arsonists could light one between us and Franklin was disquieting. While Marguerite shopped for some new shoes, I dropped off the film I had taken and picked up the one I had left of the Rory McLeod concert. I had asked that it be pushed an extra two stops and to my surprise there was no additional charge for this. "We just make you wait a bit longer for it," explained the shop assistant.

Rory McLeod and his son

Rory McLeod and his son

Rory McLeod and local singer/songwriter, Ian Paulin

Rory McLeod and local singer/songwriter, Ian Paulin

Ian will be providing music at The House of Steel when we celebrate its completion.

Thought for the day:

Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.



Sunday 11 February 2001

Busy fixing a computer! Not one of mine.

Thought for the day:

We are indoctrinated to believe that intellect is what makes humans great, and emotions are primitive leftovers from our jungle ancestors that interfere with our marvellous logical minds. It is possible to train people to base decisions on the appropriate mixture of emotional, intellectual and body-instinctive intelligence. Compassion and empathy are emotions, and I agree with the Buddhists that these emotions are highly evolved, not primitive. With enough training in self-observation, we can develop a new kind of intelligence to bear on the world. Everyday life is quite an interesting place if you pay attention to it.

Charles Tart


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Jonathan Sturm 2001

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Jonathan Sturm 2001