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 12 February 2001
A busy day working on The House of Steel. We managed to weld the roof purlins on the carport and complete the penultimate curved-top wall.
The original builders' estimates were for a cost of $A250,000 to $A300,000 ignoring that we were to provide some $A30,000 of essential fittings and labour. So the true cost was $A280,000 to $A330,000. My latest estimate for final cost is between $A140,000 and $A150,000. Note that this is in many ways a luxury home; small(ish) but with quality fittings and finish. Nevertheless, the saving is between $A100,000 and $A180,000. This is money I don't have to earn and pay taxes on, or money I had to borrow.
Had we followed the architect's prompting, we would have had to skimp on quality to make the house affordable. Had we bought generic house plans, or engaged an unimaginative draftsman, we could have had quality of fittings and finish, but the house would have looked just like anyone else's. This house is an expression of our needs and aspirations.
Several people have expressed scepticism at the magnitude of the cost saving. Be certain it's not the value of the manual labour I am doing. Most of that is hired. It's the decision-making, problem solving and phoning around for quotes. There has also been a lot of research, much of it via the Internet. Much of the problem-solving has been a joint effort between Fran, Tony and myself and I have no doubt they could have done this satisfactorily without any need for my input. And that leaves the essential task -- decision-making.
I believe that anyone of above average mental skills and a generous larding of self-confidence could do what I am doing. The mental skills required are nowhere near genius level. Patience is definitely called for. My virtual income from the project is several times what I could expect to earn over the same period. And perhaps even more important, I am thoroughly enjoying myself.
Thought for the day:
Even in the meanest sorts of labour, the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony the instant he sets himself to work.
Tuesday 13 February 2001
Windy with occasional showers. Made putting the corrugated iron on the carport difficult. Actually, it was the builder's foil (Sisalation) that goes underneath the corrugated iron that was difficult. It tends to tear in the wind. Brute strength controlled the corrugated iron. Underneath the foil is a layer of wire netting that I had lying around. The builder's foil had been lying around awaiting a use too. We managed to put a lid on half the carport before we gave up. Very impressed by the self-drilling roofing screws, they go in very easily and quickly.
Thought for the day:
To bring one's self to a frame of mind and to the proper energy to accomplish things that require plain hard work continuously is the one big battle that everyone has. When this battle is won for all time, then everything is easy.
Thomas A Buckner
Wednesday 14 February 2001
Frequent showers today made work on The House of Steel all but impossible. The extra framing lumber I ordered arrived, as did the cement sheet for the underside and the treated pine decking. The only major things left are the windows, internal lining and flooring.
Some time ago I was recommended a book, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton. I am halfway through without finding anything new to me, but it's a pretty good primer on the practical functions of the subconscious mind. Claxton refers to it as the undermind. I explain the subconscious and how it works to my students by comparing the mind to an iceberg. Only the part above the surface is seen; the vast bulk lies below.
The subconscious is a powerful machine that processes information without our being aware of it. Whatever we hold in our conscious mind is continuously monitored by the subconscious as a source for its functioning. Ordinarily, we give the subconscious its orders unaware that it will faithfully and unerringly translate those orders into reality. If we are unaware of its one major shortcoming, not mentioned in Claxton's book (so far), we find ourselves in all sorts of trouble. The flaw is that this powerful machinery does not understand the negative.
Let's say we are planning a long road trip and want to arrive safely at our destination. We can ponder thoughts of travelling and arriving safely, or we can think about avoiding all the terrible things that could happen along the way. The former thought mode will serve our needs, but the latter is translated by the subconscious as a desire for a traffic accident! Have you ever noticed that divorced people always seem to end up with new partners who have all the faults of their previous partners? They went around fervently thinking about the kind of spouse they didn't want. And their subconscious faithfully ensured that they got what they were thinking about.
The subconscious also solves more practical problems. Most of us have had the Aha! experience when the solution to some intractable problem just popped into our head. Sweating over the problem in the conscious mind produced no result, but the subconscious did the grunt work for us. I came across this unexpected ability in high school. When doing exams I would quickly answer all the problems I knew I could complete without difficulty. Then I'd put my head down for a short snooze and think about something completely different and pleasant (generally sex in those days). During this interlude, my subconscious was working away at solutions to the difficult problems and I would "awake" to complete the examination.
This mulling over of problems without trying to consciously find a solution works over long periods of time. The House of Steel is just such a problem solution. Always in the back of my thoughts was my "dream home". I built it several times over in several different ways over the course of the last twenty five years or so. And as each day produces new problems, my tradesmen and I come up with potential solutions. And my faithful old subconscious makes its decisions about those solutions while I go about my work.
Thought for the day:
Just as our eyes need light in order to see, our minds need ideas in order to conceive.
Thursday 15 February 2001
Today saw the finish of the carport roof. At 6 m by 8 m (20ft by 26 ft) it's bigger than our current living/kitchen/dining area! But it will be used for far more than garaging a car: firewood storage, workshop and undercover barbecue area are a few of its expected functions. In the meantime it's an undercover work area for the house.
We also struck yet another problem. This one's my fault. When we changed the design of the windows to less than full wall height it meant that there needed to be a structure above the windows, called a header, to take the load of the wall above. For all except one window, this is no great drama since ordinary timber will do. The French window in the front of the house is 4.5 m wide (almost 15 ft) so the header has to be of heroic proportions if it's to be timber. Unfortunately, there is no such timber available. We could laminate a beam from several pieces of smaller lumber, but that's just far too expensive. It's steel or nothing.
The engineer is preparing sketches of several possible ways to do this as the municipal council will require an engineer's certificate. Then we will have to organise a suitable piece of steel to be delivered before we can construct the final load bearing wall.
There's plenty we can be doing in the meantime, so it's a minor hiccup really. More of a nuisance is that the replacement purlins for those we purloined to make a stronger carport roof will not arrive until the end of the month. Fran asked if I had compared the price of timber to steel. Based on this last order, it's around half the price of timber!
Today was also Thomas's first day of college. Come winter, he will discover leaving home and returning in darkness.
Thought for the day:
I see mysteries and complications wherever I look, and I have never met a steadily logical person.
Friday 16 February 2001
Fran and I erected another of the smaller load bearing walls today with Neville from across the road. From this I extrapolate that it's going to take five or six stalwarts to lift the two large walls into place. But before that we need the steel beam for the header over the French Window. The engineer's requirement came through after the steel merchant closed for the week. So we will likely be doing it Tuesday next week.
Tom Syroid writes (again): "Have I mentioned lately that I really don't want to play this game anymore?"
For the last two weeks or so my interaction with computers has been almost entirely confined to that of an end user. I read my email and reply, send an occasional fax, compose my Daily Diatribe and post it, look up telephone numbers, read my favourite web pages... The computer just trundles along allowing me to do this with minimal fuss. Outlook decides to forget one of my rules, so I rewrite it a little differently. IE5 decides to drop one of my Favorites from its filtered bookmarks. I suspect that this latter behaviour is due to the machine having not been rebooted for weeks, or apps closed and restarted. Apart from the two minor glitches above, Win2k/Office 2k serve my needs admirably.
The contrast between building The House of Steel and managing computer systems could not be more stark. While routing table issues have plagued Syroidmanor and Microsoft, and the Anna Kornikova virus slows email to a crawl, the issues with the House of Steel are almost all confined to the building itself. While there are external influences on what we are doing, there is no danger that a regulation decision at the Municipal Council will cause one of the walls to fail. There's a possibility that the engineer miscalculated the loads somewhere, but that doesn't matter in the slightest. We are going beyond the minimum engineering requirements. The walls will have nearly twice the amount of bracing required. The steel beam over the French window will have three bolts into the studs at each end, rather than two. We will strap 50% more studs to the top plate than engineering or regulations demand.
Progress is much slower than we had hoped, but we know that in the later stages we can catch up some by using more manpower. We know apart from minor details that the building will be finished and occupied in weeks rather than years and that it will require almost no maintenance in order to work.
There's an immense, indescribable and deep feeling of satisfaction as each stage of the building takes place.
Working with computers on the other hand engenders feelings of dissatisfaction with what we have. Computing will be better when we have fast broadband instead of POTS, better when mature productivity apps become available on Linux, better when monitors display 300 dpi... And this in turn reminds me of the Christian religion! Things will be better when we are dead and in heaven among all the angels! Which in turn depends on choosing the correct faction, saying the correct prayers, holding your mouth in just the correct manner, avoiding impure thoughts...
How much simpler life is when at the end of a day hewing wood and pounding nails I sit, fatigued and quiet, contemplating the results of my labour. Cigarette in one hand, beer in the other and Ricky the Wonderdog at my feet waiting patiently for me to put the beer down so I can scratch his ear.
Thought for the day:
He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.
Saturday 17 February 2001
I started building the smaller of the two decks on The House of Steel. The timber is radiata pine treated with a copper/chromium preservative. The specifications for the use of zincalume coated steel state that it must not come into physical contact with such timber. The hardware store claimed that most builders don't worry about it. I purchased some plastic damp course and cut it down the middle so I could have a strip between the zincalume steel purlins and the pine decking.
An attempt to use silicone sealant as a temporary adhesive was an utter failure. It doesn't stick to the damp course plastic. So I had a fine time capturing the ends of six strips of damp course under the first strip of decking. Even an octopus might have wished for an extra tentacle or two! Nevertheless, I eventually succeeded and had a half a deck completed in half a day. The purlins are closer than in a normal deck and I used the recommended two screws at each crossover. I don't want too much warping of the timber that I see all too often when people skimp on the expensive Tech screws.
The power screwdriver takes some time to come to grips with. It has several variable controls. Depth gauge, torque, maximum speed and the trigger is also a speed control. By the twentieth screw it's all under control and routine. I'd still be at it next Tuesday if I was confined to a drill and ordinary screwdriver.
Thought for the day:
A jug fills drop by drop.
Sunday 18 February 2001
Hot and humid today while I finished the deck on The House of Steel. Too exhausted to think about anything much.
Thought for the day:
You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyse your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success -- or are they holding you back?
W Clement Stone
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© Jonathan Sturm 2001