Monday, January 26, 2009

Sayonara, Wisdom Teeth

I just wanted to post a brief update; after a critical telecon at work this morning, I drove through the snow flurries (and inevitable traffic jams amongst a DC population that acts like a single snow flake is a biblical deluge upon the streets of Los Angeles) to an appointment to have my abscessed wisdom tooth examined and extracted.

Last Friday when my wife picked up the phone to seek out an oral surgeon who might be able to work me in immediately (and who accepted my dental insurance), she also called my doctor, whose office recommended an oral surgeon in their same building, and my wife had the good luck to reach the surgeon himself on a Friday evening instead of his answering service.

Although I had some apprehension about having the extraction done under local anaesthetic only verses conscious sedation (which I'd had for the last two extractions--figuring the less I would remember of the process the better), the fact I'd eaten within six hours (a light breakfast--I'd never expected to be worked into the schedule so quickly!) nixed sedation.  But it didn't matter; the entire procedure, from first opening wide to the last suture took less than ten minutes total.

I'm recovering fairly well at home now and plan to head out to the store shortly to pick up some nice soft foods to cook for dinner--though the surgeon indicated I could eat whatever I wanted pretty much right away; the extraction went that well.

I'll have to work from home tomorrow for my own sanity, but I do have to say I'm glad to no longer have the pain of that tooth hanging around my neck (or the fears of it spreading a much more serious infection to my heart or brain, etc.!)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Creationists and IDers: If We're God's "Perfect Creations," What's Up With Tooth Decay?

One thing you hear a lot of from Creationists and "Intelligent Designers" is that humans are God's "perfect creation," created in "His" image.  This statement conveniently neglects such obvious imperfections as the vestigial vermiform appendix and tooth decay--and I can personally attest to the latter, if not (hopefully ever) the former.  If humans are so perfect, what's the deal with tooth decay?

Two years ago, I developed an abscessed wisdom tooth; my prior dentist had actually assured me the small missing chip from the tooth was "fine" (it was a sign of decay, duh!).  The pain peaked around the time I was in my cousin Michael's wedding; I could hardly bite down without feeling like I was eating glass or had a mouthful of needles.  I made it through the ceremony with the assistance of massive painkiller doses, and somehow the abscess itself cleared up and gave me several more months without a problem--I ended up keeping the appointment I'd originally made to have them removed vs. going in for an emergency.

Wisdom teeth in and of themselves are of debatable value when examined under the "design" and "perfection" lenses.  They add little to modern humans' mastication; complications range from the dreaded but common teenage pronouncement of impaction to biting surfaces partially covered by the gums or skin, leading to inevitable decay--leaving one to wonder what sort of perverse deity would design such teeth and inflict them upon their beloved creations.

Creationists believe the Earth and humankind were created by their God, not by natural processes like the Big Bang and evolution; likewise, IDers state with no small degree of smugness that the universe and life are too complex to have arisen naturally and thus require "design" by their God--i.e. creationism in a tuxedo, or perhaps a liptsticked pig of creationism (though thoughts of lipstick in conjunction with the strongly patriarchal and often overtly-misogynistic culture typically associated with ID brings to light disturbing images of Ted Haggard in drag).

Friday evening, one of my two remaining wisdom teeth--a tooth I'd had problems with and knew needed to come out eventually--started hurting a bit.  As I'd an empty stomach and was headed to dinner, I figured I'd take an Advil once I had something on my stomach.  Although the tooth had hurt off and on for some time, unlike my prior wisdom tooth, I'd always been able to control the pain with one or at most two Advil--and of late, hadn't needed a dose for at least several weeks.

Over the next five minutes, the tooth went from a bit of pain to an exploding hammer drill in the side of my head.  Given we were headed to our favorite Indian restaurant, perhaps the Christian God felt a bit of petty jealousy for the Hindu pantheon.  But during that short drive--the restaurant is about a mile from our house--I realized something was seriously wrong with my tooth.  This was the worst pain I'd ever experienced in my life, inescapable and nearly unbearable in intensity; it shot from my jaw around my entire mouth and up along the side of my head in waves of pounding agony.  I did manage to eat--by then, the pain and low blood sugar from hunger were making me sick, and I had to ingest something.

Through luck my creationist and IDer brethren would ascribe to providence, my wife reached my doctor's office even on a Friday night, and in short order I had prescriptions for antibiotics and painkillers.  Even taking the maximum dose of painkillers, my tooth throbbed; the antibiotics took about three doses to kick in, after which the pain began to at least be controllable.

One might ask of the Creationists and IDers: even if we allow for the fact of tooth decay itself under your "creation" and "design" schemes (or the Christian notion of the Fall, which seems to explain everything from pain in childbirth to aging and disease), then wouldn't humans be more perfect if they regrew adult teeth, as do some animals including sharks?  Wouldn't an even more impressive feat of perfection be the body's shedding of decayed teeth and their subsequent natural replacement by God's "perfect" creation?

Or will I get the answer and argument that it's all part of an inscrutable "plan," that my tooth pain is punishment for my scoffing skepticism yet the luck of reaching my doctor and getting a Monday morning appointment for extraction signs of that same vengeful god's mercy and grace?  Sometimes I feel like I'm arguing with the Ouroboros, the mythological snake devouring its own tail, in the level of circular reasoning thrown up by my opponents.  Sigh.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More Shelves, More Books ... Continued Library Work

I wanted to put together a quick post to cover some more of the work I've gotten done since Saturday for the library at Chateau Papillon.  The first wall's shelves are now pretty well loaded, and I've gotten the front case moulding in place.  I'd gotten the crown moulding set in place, measured, double-checked, checked again, test-fit, and then finally cut... but something seems to be off on the left edge (which should be a 22.5 degree inside angle--yes, crown is tougher to cut, but I double-checked it several times with test pieces).  Maybe it's fine; I kept thinking the piece that runs to the wall (visible at the top right) was wrong, but it's perfect.

Next, I've gotten a lot of the second wall done, too.  The first three standards are in place along with the two long shelves which finish framing the window; what's left is standard to the left which will create another slender unit (a couple of inches wider than the one on the right).  Then I'll cap the standards with the top board and install the face and crown moulding, too.  Last will be an extension on the HVAC duct, which will allow me to box it in tightly and put in a couple of shelves above it (right now, they'd get too hot in the winter without the extension).

There will be a corner unit between the two walls; the shelves are going to be a bit tricky to cut (with a 45 degree front face--and possibly the same in the back if I install a slender backer board in the corner itself).  But that's nothing compared to the crown moulding, whose ends meet at 22.5 degree inside "corners."  At nearly $2/foot, I can't risk many fouled-up cuts on that stuff!

Forgive the wide angle distortion in the above photo; however, it should give an idea of how the library's really coming along.  I've unpacked another four to five cartons of books--only somewhere north of 15 left (eek!), with many of those oddly-sized books which will shelve much less neatly.  Still, we've got the corner units to build, another slender unit to the left of the window framing, and two units up to the window on the third wall--and perhaps that window will be framed in, too.  The latter will necessitate more lumber, though; I'm down to two full sheets of plywood and cut sheets for another two standards and several shelves.

Out With the Old, In With the New: Or, "Adios, W!"

I took a half day off from work today to watch the inauguration (and avoid any traffic snarls headed eastbound from my house, or the what I expect to be awful post-inauguration traffic headed outbound later in the day).  I was about to get back to work and had stepped outside to take advantage of a bit of daylight in cutting a few more standards for the home library when a big jet flew overhead.

I thought for a moment, "Hmm, wonder if that's Bush headed to Texas?  The timeframe seems right..." Indeed, when I glanced up, there was what formerly was Air Force One in its 747 glory.  I only wish I'd had my camera outside with me to remember this moment: seeing W head home, no longer the resident of the White House.  I gave a quick "see ya" wave to the plane and thought of that bit of good southern hospitality: don't let the door hit you on your way out!

Well, I've got to get back to work; plenty to do for the office before the week's up, and I've got a lot of PowerPoint slides to create, software to install and evaluate, and more.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Library Begins to Take Shape

Another weekend's work has begun on the library at Chateau Papillon, and it's really starting to take shape with the near-completion of the first set of shelves.  Despite another slap in the face by Mother Nature--this when I'm using FSC-certified lumber, no less--with her single-digit temperatures, I managed to wheel out the table saw and cut several more sets of shelves and began unpacking some books.

Though there's woodwork still to be done--puttying and sanding the nail and screw holes for the standards as well as the shelves (which are stabilized by a thin strip glued and nailed to their front edges) for one, then attaching decorative molding to the fronts of the standards and along the ceiling, and of course painting or staining the shelf units, too.  But I really wanted to get a sense of how they'd look and work with books on them, so after Beth and I got the last standard in place for the wall (the one to the far left), I worked on setting the shelves in place and unpacking.

I'm actually getting a bit worried we won't have enough shelving in the library for our books!  So far, I've unpacked nearly seven cartons of books, leaving well over twenty more cartons to go.  Worse, many of those remaining are hardcovers and irregularly-sized books, which won't store as neatly or densely as what I've gotten in place so far.  Count-wise, I probably have somewhere close to 400 mass-market paperbacks on the shelves, maybe 40 hardbacks, and somewhere south of 100 trade- and oddly-sized paperbacks.  That's not even a third of the books in our total collection (as it exists--remember, we need room to grow)--and these first three shelving units represent over 1/3 of the total space we'd intended to devote to shelves in the library as a whole.

I've still got room for perhaps two more cartons of books in the first three shelf units; I've got to cut several sheets of 3/4" plywood for heavier-duty hardcover shelves, though; the 1/2" shelves, even with a strip along the front for stability, just aren't up to full-time duty for that much weight.  That, and I need to go to the hardware store in search of more shelf pegs; for the hardcovers, I've come to prefer L-shaped metal pegs over the inline ones I've used for the most part so far.  That should free up enough wood for four more shelves in these units, and I expect to get the next two standards up tomorrow as well.  They'll give us a narrow unit to the right of the windows, as well as define a corner space which will need some tricky shelf-cutting to fill.

We've got enough wood on hand to run the shelves along the rest of the next wall and perhaps do one set of shelves on the third wall (I hope!), and I've got two large shelf units in my office on which I plan to keep my birding books and my various writing, photography, and desktop publishing references--and perhaps, if I have room, my mythology references as well.  Still, even assuming we use some of the older shelves we'd hoped to discard in various rooms of the house, it's going to be a tight squeeze to get all the books in.  Dare I go through and find a carton or two's worth of books I don't need, and give them to Goodwill?  Eek!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

More Progress on the Library (And No Thanks to You, Mother Nature!)

The three-day weekend gave me a chance to work on the library; after drawing up the plans and getting the floor done last weekend, we took a 10% off coupon to Home Depot and picked up the lumber and miscellaneous hardware needed to build custom floor-to-ceiling shelves for our library.

First, we ripped several sheets of quality plywood into strips 11.5" wide and just under 8' tall; these would, with 1x4" boards sandwiched in-between, form the uprights for the shelf units.  In the photo above, you can see one of the uprights in nearly-finished form: the two sheets of plywood have been glued to the 1x4" boards (and then screwed together for good measure).  I've clamped in-place a piece of pegboard which I used as a guide to drill the holes for adjustable shelves; subsequently, using a drill bit with a "stop" bolted on to control its depth, will drill the two rows of holes, over 300 per upright in total.

After that, I screwed lag bolts into the bottoms of the uprights, then sawed off the bolt heads using a hacksaw.  These pegs nee bolts then fit into holes drilled into the floor, and after much work with a level to ensure the upright is plumb, it got bolted to the wall as well.

In the photo above, you can see an in-progress shot of the first wall of shelving.  Three of the uprights have been installed, creating two shelving units.  The thin strips screwed with apparent abandon to the fronts are there to stabilize the uprights and keep them in perfect position until the top (a 1/4" sheet of plywood) and crown moulding are in place, and until I have more anchors set into the walls to hold them.

The adjustable shelves should provide a good home for our home library; as seen in the photo, I set several of the completed shelves in place at heights to support mass market paperbacks, trade paperbacks, and hardcover books.  There's still a lot to do even just on the first wall: one more upright to set in place, some tweaks to make sure all the units are perfectly square to each other, and, of course, the trim.  Each unit's front is faced with some fancy (and priced as such, unfortunately) moulding to conceal the plywood "sandwich," for starters.  And the nail and screw holes have to be puttied and sanded, and the wood finished, though we haven't decided whether to go with paint or stain yet, or what shade of either.

I'd perhaps been a bit ambitious in my scheduling in planning to have the first two walls done this weekend, but then, Mother Nature didn't help out much.  Though on Friday I did get several of the uprights and shelf boards ripped with the table saw, just after I'd gotten set up on Saturday and done a bit of sanding--I hadn't even gotten to use the table saw to do any work on cutting shelves to width or on trim--the skies opened up, first with sleet, then the same bone-chilling rain we've seen for the past couple of weeks off and on.  Enough rain, already!

We got the tarp on the table saw and brought the other tools in; I had to hand-dry several to keep out rust (and I only hope I got all the moisture!)  The table saw had to wait under the tarp for the rain to let up a bit, then it got dried off and wheeled to the shed.  All told, Mother Nature gave us a day's set-back in construction!  That, mind you, after I'd bought FSC-certified wood for the "green" aspect of our library construction; she's got no shame, apparently.

Well, hopefully this next weekend will give us a chance to finish the first wall of shelves and do some unpacking of the books; we need the space in the library to store the rest of the wood.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Picture Rail for the Home Gallery

One thing neither Beth nor I have ever had much shortage of is a collection of photography and art to be displayed around the home, and since I took up bird and nature photography seriously in 2006, we've run more a wall shortage and picture surplus rather than the other way around.

Credit Beth for the idea of picture rail; she suggested a "gallery" system where photos hang from some sort of bracket or strip on the walls and can be easily adjusted or moved around.  Having done moulding installation before--my townhome had several walls with chair rail--I took her idea and interpreted it as classical-style "picture rail," or a strip of special moulding that goes about a foot below the room's ceiling and from which photos hang by means of a special hook that goes over the moulding's curved profile.

(We both had some misconceptions about said moulding--Beth had envisioned a more modern strip, and I had thought it meant nailing hooks up along its length, vs. the curved moulding hooks which are actually used.)

I've gotten the picture rail installed on several walls in the living room now as well as down the hallway.  Please excuse the clutter in the photo above; it should, however, give you an idea of how the picture rail looks and is used to display photography and artwork: here, several of my bird photos.  The rail still needs to be stained (and the nail holes puttied over, of course), but as yet, I'm debating what color to stain it.  Originally, a dark mahogany seemed best, contrasting with the lighter walls and going well with the dark curtain rods and hardware; with the bare pine in place, though, a lighter color doesn't seem such a bad choice, either.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Progress on the Library

One thing we really looked forward to during our entire house hunt and particularly after we found (and then bought) Chateau Papillon was building a library.  I've got nearly 2,000 books (a collection which grows daily at times, it seems), and ever since moving to northern Virginia, most have had to live in cardboard boxes.  Beth has several hundred more herself; I haven't inventoried hers yet, though.

In Blacksburg, I built a set of custom bookcases for my loft, sized for the loft's rear knee wall (just over six feet high--the roof slanted down across it) and for my books (with special shelves 12" deep, and several at perfect heights for paperbacks and others for hardcovers, and yet others for various oversized books).  Even with those, plus my two large bookcases and seven (yes, seven!) smaller 4' tall shelf units, I was even then starting to see book "crowding."

So for Chateau Papillon, we planned to build floor-to-ceiling shelving, making a true library for all those books.  Before moving in, we got the painting done in the library--a nice teal color--though I did leave the ceiling still lavender (I tired of ceiling painting pretty quickly after my home office), with plans to put up tin ceiling tiles instead.  But that's where the library has been for weeks now.

John nailing down bamboo flooring planks
Finally, today I got to work on reflooring the library.  Like the master bedroom and my home office, there had been a lot of damage to the original hardwood floors: paint spills by a former owner or tenant, and many staple and nail holes from the carpet which had been there under the prior owner's tenure.  No problem; we'd ordered enough bamboo to cover all three of those rooms.  I just hadn't had time yet to tackle the library.

The floors are (almost) done now; I've only a few specially-cut strips along the entry side of the room to install.  See those stacks of boxes in the background?  Those are our books, aside from a couple of cartons at the very top.  Between these boxes and a few of cookbooks in the basement, all told there are just under 40 cartons of books awaiting their shelves!

I've got Friday off next week, so I plan to get to work on doing the first two walls' worth of shelves (along the entry wall, where I stood to take this photo; and along the right-hand wall to the window, below it, and then up the other side).  More to come... it will be nice to get those books unpacked!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Virginia Tech Breaks the ACC BCS Bowl Curse

 The ACC hadn't been able to win a BCS football game since one I personally attended back at the end of the 1999 season in early January of 2000: the national championship game at the Sugar Bowl.  Unfortunately, for that one, I happened to be cheering for the Big East...

My alma mater Hokies have made it to the BCS (and its immediate predecessors in the "Bowl Coalition" and "Bowl Alliance") bowls several times, starting with the magical 1995 season and its perfect ending in the 28-10 win over highly-favored Texas.  But from then on out, it was a loss to Nebraska (Orange), to Florida State for the national title (Sugar), a heart-breaker to undefeated Auburn (Sugar), and a depressing loss to Kansas (Orange).  I'll only pause a moment to grumble bitterly about the Fiesta we should have played in ('00-'01), when 11-1, #5 VT got snubbed so we could see #6 Oregon State whallop the lame domers of Notre Dame, 41-3.

But enough history.  The facts are that neither the ACC nor Virginia Tech had been particularly good in the "big game" stage of the BCS.  And having sent seven defensive starters to the NFL along with pretty much the entire receiving corps and backfield gone as well, things didn't exactly look great this year, either--just getting to the Orange Bowl was something of a miracle for Tech in '08.

Until now.  The Hokies just won the ACC's first BCS bowl in nine years, defeating the Big East's Cincinnatti Bearcats 20-7 in a game Tech pretty much dominated outside of the very first possession.

The first day of 2009 did start off on the right foot, I guess!

Some fans (myself included, somewhat) will grouse that it was "just" Cincy--heck, probably most of the rest of college football will say that.  But the truth is that the Bearcats had won 11 games, and the Hokies were an incredibly young team with much to overcome just to reach the Orange Bowl.  Personally, a win is a win; you have to start somewhere!  (Fans last year grumbled about Kansas until we lost that game; they wanted a piece of someone "better.")  The fact of the matter, too, is that the BCS will pair the ACC and the Big East against each other every single year until we as the ACC prove we deserve better--and this is that first step.

Congratulations, Hokies!