Archive for the ‘The Big Move’ Category

Now that Ilda is here more or less permanently, we quickly discovered we needed a second car. I drive to work, so if she wants to go out for coffee, groceries, solving crimes or whatever it is she does during her Ph.D. breaks 🙂 then she is stuck (the downside of living in the American ‘burbs). So this past week we decided to move on that.

One option was to get another passenger car, but we thought that was a bit pointless as you don’t really get any extra capabilities – so instead we thought we should get a bakkie (pick-up truck to you Yanks), because sometimes we have found the cargo carrying capacity of the Yaris to not great (just past weekend we went to Ikea to get some furniture, and we had to rent a U-haul, which gets expensive pretty quickly; and buying lumber etc for house projects is always a giant pain). We are also planning on setting up a little backyard farm, so a car with no carperts in the cargo space will be handy.

I looked at new bakkies, and that was pretty quickly ruled out – about the cheapest you can get is a Toyota Tacoma, which starts (before tax) at about $18k, and it really did not win us over in looks or gas mileage (although I still like the quality of Toyota engineering). So then we looked for second-hand trucks. The ones that are a couple of years old typically have too many luxury features and you end up paying too close to the Tacoma’s price (rather have the baseline new one than the old one with a bunch of features we don’t want). But then we found Drager’s Classics.

Drager’s is an awesome place run by a father and son team (the Dragers), who in fact used to be a grandpa, father and son team. They specialize in classic cars, but they sell at all price ranges (from a couple thousand up to $100k). Thanks to the handy YouTube videos of all their cars, we were able to find one we liked – a 1977 Chevy Cheyenne for $4000. It had some rust on the body, but the engine was basically new (only 40,000 miles on it), and it looked pretty cool too:

So off we went the next Saturday to have a look at it. I invited Paul along, because he is manly and American and would probably know a lot about these things (which he does, to a crazy level of detail). Ilda had phoned ahead and was told that someone else was interested in the truck, but they had not shown any money yet, so if we had the money, we could have it.

When we arrived, we were amazed. The showroom floor is like a car museum (virtual tour here). Classic bikes, cars, car toys, gas pumps, vintage posters all spotlessly clean and beautifully laid out. We met Andrew (the son), who took us to see the truck. On the way we spotted a red 1970 Chevy CST/10, in just beautiful shape (it was $13k). We oohd and aaahd a little while, and Paul started getting all nostalgic mentioning it was the first car he’d ever owned while still in high school.

On getting to the brown truck, we looked at it, and it seemed nice enough. However, Andrew was reluctant to sell because he had been in a lot of contact with the other mysterious buyer, and was feeling reluctant to pull out the sale from under him (even though his dad had told him if we had money he should sell to us). He told us he had two other trucks to look at (a little more expensive) if we wanted to. This guy was very straightforward and earnest and not at all like a car salesman, so we decided we would not push him on the brown truck – if he wanted to keep his word to the other buyer, he would respect that.

So we tried the other two trucks. One was a blue ford, which had been pimped up a little (tinted windows, lowered suspension). We tried it out and it was ok. However, Andrew kept pointing things out that he did not like about it (which is very strange behaviour in a car salesman). In the end, he almost straight up told us, it’s not worth getting. So we tried the other one, a 1974 Chevy C series. It ran fine (even had a crazy liquid propane fuel option), but it was just incredibly boring – like a big white delivery truck. If we were going to get an old car, it had to be cool (which the brown one certainly was).

At this point I think Paul suggested “we may as well” try out the more expensive red truck. So we got in, and wow, it was in great shape. Almost all the interior was original (red vinyl, original seats, original instruments and AM only radio), and was spotless and unblemished. We took it for a spin around the yard. It ran great. We both fell in love with it right there.

We popped the hood and Paul helped us poke around and check things out. Everything looked in pretty good shape (the odometer read around 150,000 miles, but Andrew told us he had no way of telling if that was the correct figure or how many times it had been reset). So we thought, let’s do it. It was not easy haggling  – he only came down to $12,800 (which after tax was still cheaper than the Tacoma before tax). At this point Janna, Paul’s girlfriend, told us we had just saved them $13k, because had we not bought it he would have 🙂

So the specs: It is a 1970 Chevrolet CST/10, 2 wheel drive, automatic transmission, Goodwrench 350 6L v8 engine. AM radio, bench seat. Non original items are the tyres (they seem to be beefier than the originals), NRA stickers (yes, two in the windows), chrome skull door latch pulls (we are going to be replacing those), and the Rhino Liner sprayed into the cargo compartment.

Here are some pictures we took of it:

Red and white and awesome

The interior is all original

The pink slip - it is ours!!

The following Tuesday we picked it up. It has some slight issues (as you would expect a 41 year old car to have): The steering wheel has cracks, the speedometer is 5mph slow (due I think to the fact it has non-original tyres of a different size fitted), and it has one small leak on a cooling hose. Other than that, it runs absolutely great. We discovered a Les Schwab receipt in the glove box showing that the tyres are new from 2008, which is a big bonus.

It probably only gets around 10-12MPG, but we thought that operating an existing truck with bad milage would probably produce less CO2 and pollutants than building an operating a new truck which only gets around 20MPG. Plus, for most trips we will continue to use the Yaris (which gets around 30MPG).

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In the middle of everything else, we have had some time to tweak and mod little things around the house. We got some vinyl decals for the living room, because we could not decide what pictures to put on that wall – it ended up looking pretty good:

Click for more sizes

The most completed room is the study – we finally put all our photos etc on the walls (more pics of that later). Here is one the bookshelves I packed with all my hobby stuff:

Click for more sizes

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Around 2007, Ilda spotted an busted up arcade cabinet which had been dumped outside our building in Cape Town. I got very excited, ran downstairs in my pajamas and hauled it into our garage, fixed it up as best I could and turned it into a MAME arcade.


Arcade machine 'classic' - very rough around the edges


In our new place, the machine sits in the guest bedroom, and I was not too happy about how it looked. It was cool, but it was essentially a big black hulk that looked unfinished. I wanted to make it match the room a little better, so it looked less like a refugee. The three things I wanted to do were putting a clean frame around the monitor, fitting a neater control board, and removing an annoying tendency for the control board to bend inwards when you leaned on it while playing.

First thing to to was disassemble the old machine, which was easy. The main problem was that in those Cape Town days I had no proper electric tools or even a soldering iron, so everything was loose and falling apart anyway.


Taking the dinosaur apart


I did a little testing on an American material called MDF – which is a sort of composite sawdust-resin type stuff sold in 5mm thick boards. It is very hard, but sucks up water like no-one’s business, so I would have to paint/seal all the bits carefully. It only costs $5 for a huge piece, so I did some tests and found it would work great (with a little reinforcement). I cut a frame and control board and fitted it for a test.


Test fitting the new pieces



The control board was most of the work – drilling the holes and gluing a cross-beam to stiffen it (go get rid of the annoying give when pushed). I had a piece of pine fence picket left over from the new bunny hutch, so I used that. Worked out pretty well.


Bulding the control board


Then came the soldering of all the contacts. That took a while, but it guarantees that no matter how crazy the gaming session gets, no cables will come loose. I also screwed the Ipac board to the picket to make sure it was nice and sturdy.


All the electronics ready to go


Finally the paint job. I decided to use normal spray paint, as it is cheap and I had used it in a couple of side projects around the house and know how it behaves (plus it is a little waterproof in case of spills). I decided to go for dark red, because the guest bedroom has a red/white color scheme. I decided to paint the edges of the MDF using Tamiya acrylics instead of spray paint because I was worried that spraying the edges would leave bubbles or blobs of paint. So I did those first with a little brush, and then hit the faces with the spray can (I think I did four coats on each, on the final coat I raised to can far off the surface to end with a dusty texture). Once it was done I thought it looked a little bland, so I masked two chevrons and sprayed those in back.


Here it is - the freshly revamped cabinet


And presto! It looks good in the room, plays better thanks to the more rigid control board, and will last longer (no more disassembling half the cabinet each time a cable gets loose…). It is ready to be tested extensively with Miss Pacman when Ilda and Luisa arrive.


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Welcome to Bellevue

Wow, it has been a crazy couple of weeks. We are finally at a state where the house is just needing a couple of tweaks.

We have done a ton of DIY work. We painted two rooms (the study went from dark green to yellow – that took four coats of paint!), replaced locks, replaced lighting fixtures, removed a carpet, added a gas line in the kitchen (we had a professional do this, for obvious reasons), changed the sink in the garage, put up shelves and pictures, and of course unpacked the many, many boxes of stuff we brought. Oh, and I put a blackboard on a door (Ilda has always wanted one).

The most interesting part of the whole experience has been that we decided to do most of the work (including assembling furniture) ourselves. With the help of YouTube and some web searches, we managed to do everything without screwing up anywhere. And of course, we saved a ton of money that way. For example, we called in a locksmith one day because we locked ourselves out of the bathroom one day (we didn’t have the key). The guy charged us $201 for about 15 minutes of work. I decided to prevent this from happening in the future, we would replace the locks on both bathrooms (and add a lock to the door between the garage and kitchen, which had none), so off we went to Home Depot, picked up the three locks for about $60 (and a chisel for $15), and spent the rest of the evening putting them in. It took a lot of sweating, grunting and swearing, but it got done. I shudder to think how much a locksmith would have charged for that.

We don’t have a good set of pictures of the place yet, but it is definitely feeling like home. The most complete rooms are the kitchen and master bedroom, and now that the couch arrived, the living room. The study still needs some polish, and so does the guest bedroom. The garage is full to the gills with empty boxes and paper (I am parking outside). We have discovered a big recycling dumpster at Crossroads Mall, which we will be making use of to get rid of that stuff. The final hurdle is the new hutch for the bunnies, which I am currently designing. It will be the same basic design as the one we used in Cape Town, but roomier and more airy.

Now that I have a proper place to relax, I will be getting back to the usual hobby stuff. I am working on two new FS tools which are interesting (one for FSDS, the other general purpose), and during the move I was working with the Eaglesoft guys to get their new Citation X for FSX out to beta – I will be blogging about those things very soon.

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Been busy with home improvement stuff, so no time to blog. But the end is in sight! Just a few more things to go (and now we have the internet, courtesy of Speakeasy).

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Last Wednesday we signed escrow, so this coming Tuesday (the 18th) we are getting the keys, and we will be ready for the big move.

This Saturday we went off to Seattle to buy some goodies for the house. Some of them (wooden spoons, some new plates, that kind of thing) we got as Daiso Japan – it is a nice little shop where you can buy this sort of thing very cheap. Items not marked are all $1.50, and other things are a little more (the plates were $3.00). So for $35 we walked out with a bunch of stuff.

A little slower will be buying the furniture and appliances. Through the Microsoft Prime card we can get a nice big discount on the appliances – almost 25%. A lot of other stuff is coming from IKEA – a folding couch bed, dinner table, desks for the study and a couple more things. One thing we are getting from a traditional furniture shop is the couch – that we will get from Modern Design Sofas, who do custom couches. That will take about 10 weeks to deliver (which is twice as long as it took to get the actual house!). Then of course there is the TV – A 40″ Samsung which arrived earlier last week in an absolutely massive box.

The other big thing to happen this week will be some home improvement type stuff. First off is getting a plumber into the kitchen to put in a gas line for the stove and a water line for the ice maker in the fridge. Also, we are tearing up the carpet in the study and painting it, and doing a couple of odd things in the bathroom. That we will do during the evenings etc this week. On Thursday I have booked a U-Haul truck to go down to IKEA and start buying our goodies (I will take that day off so we have a good long while to do that).

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We had planned to move quickly on buying a house when Ilda arrived, but we ended up doing things a little faster than we thought. Ilda arrived on a Wednesday, and by the end of the following Monday, we had looked at 22 places (and countless other ones online). Lucky for us our agent Shelley seems to have no end of energy, so we could keep the pace up (I must admit I had a little trouble keeping up there towards the end).

Originally we had wanted a place in the city (downtown Seattle area, that is), and we spent all of Saturday looking there – but the places we were seeing had tiny little gardens, and a pretty long commute to work. Of all the ones we saw up there, there was one really nice three-level modern townhouse in Ballard which had a small little garden that we really liked, and that moved up to the top of our list. Sunday we decided to look at places around Bellevue and Kirkland (closer to work, but in the burbs), and at that point I did not have a lot of confidence we would see anything I liked. We started off with an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list of places, and after getting through all the ‘A’ places seeing only one niceish place, we, completely on a whim, decided to try a ‘B’ list place purely cause we happened to drive past it on the way to somewhere else. And it was aaaaawesome…

As seen in Street View

As seen in Street View

It is in the Lake Hills area, which is in the South end of Bellevue, very close to the I-90 freeway. This makes it fairly quick to get to Seattle for restaurants etc (we did a trial run on a Sunday and it took us only 15 minutes to the International District, which is about 10 minutes faster than from Redmond). So even though it is not in the city, we can get there pretty quickly (as long as it is not rush hour). And we get a nice garden too, and it is close to work for me. Best part is we got a reduction in the asking price (we ended up at 371k), so we have some money for a couple of mods right away.

So some stats: It is built in 1957, but has been updated a lot along the way. Three bedrooms, one bathroom and a little sink and toilet combo next to the main bedroon. It has a galley style kitchen and a dining room which opens up to the garden. Double garage too, for me to set up a little workshop in!

You walk directly into the living room. Here is the front door, with the great floors…

This is the ‘sitting on the couch’ view. The fireplace is wood burning (modern fireplaces in Seattle are all gas burning), and it sort of wraps around the corner a little bit. That little corner next to the window (to the left of which is the entrnace to the kitchen), will be the new Bunny Villa (I plan to build a nice wooden enclosure for them which complements the floor etc):

Then the kitchen. It is a pretty good size. The only downside is no gas stove, but because we are saving money on the deposit, we are going to have a gas line put in plus a gas stove right away (the house already has gas plumbing because the water and air heating systems are gas driven).

We also will put in a new fridge. Best thing about the kitchen is a huge window above the sink which looks out onto the garden.

Between the dining room and the kitchen is a nice sized pantry. We used to struggle with storage space in the Peakview kitchen, so this is really going to be nice. Ilda wants to put a big blackboard on the door

The bedrooms are not huge, but big enough They are also carpeted which is a bonus. The master bedroom is only a little bigger than the guest room, but it has a big window looking over the back garden, and a little on suite toilet.

We will keep one other bedrrom as a reading room/guest bedroom (we are going to get a couch bed), and the other as a study. That one will need to be painted because it has quite dark green walls. We will also remove the carpet in that room, becuase it looks like the the floor underneath is the same finished wooden floor as the rest of the house has. The main bathroom is nice, but the tub is one of those American plastic things which is not great. It also has a huge aluminium/glass enclosure thing which makes it feel smaller than it is. We will remove that and put in a nice shower curtain instead. Otherwise you can’t really use it as a bath, only as a shower.

And then the garden. It is just so damn nice. We get three huge trees and a big box for planting herbs.

We are pretty much done with all the buying related things now – we have a contract signed, we finished the home inspection (there are a couple of things to fix, not too many), and the loan company is doing there thing. If all goes well, we should have the place towards the end of August. Yesterday was the last time we saw the house before we move in (and I took a moment to measure all the rooms so that we can plan), so the next set of pictures I will post will be of the empty house waiting for us to move in.

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Today was six months since my orientation. It has been an interesting time. I have been noticing lately that I was able to take on a lot more tasks without any extra help, and that I have started to think security when I look at a design. I learned how to write test and production level code, and how to navigate the politics of an American company. Still lots more to learn, but I am definitely making a contribution now, rather than just blinking madly as confusing events fly past.

I have not yet given to the urge to talk in acronyms. I will fight that one.

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Autumn is slowly slipping into winter. The sun sets a little after five, and the evenings are noticeably cooler.

Winter means birds fly South, but Ildas, fortunately, fly North. 🙂

The whole of Exchange is packing up and moving to Building 32 – it is about 5 minutes walk from the current building. I will still be sharing an office, but this time with a developer from my team, and we will be sharing a much bigger space (doing code reviews, where one or two other people need to sit around your monitor, was pretty cramped before). Also, as this will be a fairly permanent office, I can start decorating it and making myself at home – like taking my Wererabbit plushie and placing him on a prominent spot.

The move began with us having to pack all out stuff into plastic crates provided for us, and putting special stickers with our new office address (building and room numbers) on all our PCs and so on. This all had to be completed by Friday at 5, so most people just worked a half day on Friday and then packed up for the rest of the day (We finished packing by 4, then headed off to look at the new company store and visitors center). The movers will be working all the weekend and all of Monday to move things into place (this includes hooking up all our machines and testing them – very nice). That means no-one is allowed in the new building till Tuesday – yes! Long weekend!

I need the Monday to complete a very special secret mission in Seattle, so just as well. More on this mission later…

At home, I finally got around to ordering and building my new desk (with wheely ped) – it is nice and big, so I can finally get into Flight Sim seriously now. I have space to put my notes out when I do development, as well being able to hook up all my peripherals (plus my home-built MCP) when I want to fly.

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It is the one month monthniversary of my arrival. So far so good. Since I started work, work has been a big part of my day – in at about 9, out by about 7, play with the bunnies for a while, chat to Ilda online, watch some tv, go to sleep, rinse and repeat.

The bus stop on 156th Avenue NE where I catch the bus home.

The bus stop on 156th Avenue NE where I catch the bus home.

Work is a double edge sword (or triple edge; not sure – but it is very pointy in places). On the one hand, the place hums with futureness. Smart, young people working on the latest and greatest technology. Everyone is slightly odd or eccentric. Walking along the corridors in building 34 (my building), I often get lost because they are very much the same. But what an education – peering into people’s offices you can see movie posters, teddy bears, photos of wives and kids, model airplanes, bumper stickers, news clippings, many, many empty cooldrink cans, and one person has an illuminated fish tank and about 20 pot plants. My office is still pretty boring, mostly because I have not had time to spruce it up yet, but also because I share with a nice Candian called Rob, and with two of us there is not too much space.

My desk. The bowl is compostable cardboard. The spoon is compostable plastic made from potato starch.

My desk. The bowl is compostable cardboard. The spoon is compostable plastic made from potato starch. On the left is my test server; the right is my dev machine. It is connected to two of those 20" displays.

In terms of creature comforts and modern living the company is quite something else. Every building is climate controlled, and you can if you want call for an ergonomics team to come in and advise you on how to lay out your office and adjust you chair etc (I wonder what they would say to the guy who has not a desk and chair but a treadmill). There are sound-proofed conference rooms so that when you have a meeting, you can safely discuss trade secrets. And they are crazy about recycling; they don’t just recycle – they compost. So all paper, cups, plates and so on are compostable (if you leave a paper cup on your desk with some tea in it, the next day, the cup with have melted at the bottom and you will get a puddle – I use a porcelain mug to be safe). The cutlery is made of a special palstic made from potato starch which is also compostable (and if you lick them they taste a little like chips). And so on and so on.

Then on the other hand, the actual coding has been driving me crazy. Everything in Exchange runs on services rather than regular processes, and I have not used those before. On top of that, people here never do anything as you would expect, because everything is hardened against security threats, and optimized for performance. So diving into many millions of lines of code written that way and trying to figure out what is what has been more than a little frustrating. Finally today I made a big breakthrough, so it looks like I am making some headway. And that felt good. One foot in front of the other!

The back foyer of building 34 - it is open and glass fronted all the way up four floors.

The back foyer of building 34 - it is open and glass fronted all the way up four floors.

When I need a little break, I usually pick up a Talking Rain (the local brand of soda water), and go for a little walk outside. If it is raining I will just sit in the foyer and look out (the front of the building is all glass, so you get a very good view of the trees and mountains from it).

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