light switch upgrade

I'm nearing the end of the home improvement projects. I still need to install a beadboard chair rail and repaint the breakfast nook. I also have to paint, move some cabinets, and maybe install cork flooring in the laundry room. And that's pretty much it.

The extra credit "smart" home projects started when I installed a Nest thermostat (many years ago now), then I replaced all the incandescent bulbs to led which actually saved a lot of money, and then I most recently installed a Toto washlet. The next project is to upgrade the light switches to a Lutron Caseta system. I have about 6 or 7 light switches to replace and I've already got a couple floor lamps and table lamps hooked up. The Apple Homekit integration is quite nice, turn on/off/dim any lights in the house via my iPhone or laptop.

Let's hope I don't electrocute myself.

landscape lighting

Turns out landscape lighting isn't too hard to install. I needed to buy a transformer, a timer, some lighting cable, waterproof lighting wire connectors, and then the lights themselves — FX Luminaire SP (Standard Premium).

A little bit of research and speaking with the helpful sales manager at The Urban Farmer Store put me in the right direction.

I'm probably going to install some uplights at some point to highlight a couple of trees. It's not a bad do it yourself project and I probably saved a thousand dollars or so doing it on my own.

Wiseman knives

Been looking for a nice pocketknife. These ones are made by Gene Wiseman. Didn't really need much more than a sharp blade, a bottle opener, and a flat edge screwdriver for the occasional tightening of that random screw. And I need all the wise I can get.

revisiting washlets

I lukewarmly wanted a washlet after trying to use one in Tokyo 10 years ago (?). I figured out how to use it but getting one wasn't top of mind. Recently I was able to use another washlet in a hotel in Suwon from Novita (a South Korean brand) and I was reminded that these washlets are actually really nice. Like mind-blowing nice and they've gotten way better since the last time I used one.

So I went and bought a Toto washlet (search the web for a good price) and installed it (was very easy to do). This Toto washlet has a remote control, an automatic open and close toilet seat cover and seat, front and back wash with varying degrees of spray control, a booty dryer, a deodorizer, a night light, and a heated seat. All very sanitary and Apple engineers would be proud (in fact I think you should get a washlet instead of upgrading to an iPhone 11/Pro).

The other reason I was compelled to get one was because a house two doors down in our Bushrod neighborhood sold for $1MM dollars. It's a very nice craftsman style house but not exactly a mini mansion or on beach front property and *NO* washlets. I'm embarrassed to think our house is worth $1MM. BUT if you walk into our bathroom and enjoy the Toto washlet, you will walk out feeling like a million bucks. Guaranteed.

Anyway, I recommend this one -> Novita BH 90 or any of the Toto branded ones.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' aka Eastern Redbud

This is my third try at growing a Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' also known as the Eastern Redbud also known as the Judas tree. The story goes, this is the tree that Judas chose to hang himself. Fun!

It has really pretty pink buds when flowering. Then the leaves go from a glossy, deep red heart shaped leaf to a large matte red to eventually a matte green leaf. It's a slow grower though so I'm giving it a lot of worm compost to hopefully super charge its growth (maxes out at 20ft tall/25ft wide)

Here's a better set of images of the tree. Third time is hopefully the charm (since I've killed two redbuds and a manzanita in the same spot) and maybe this tree finally grows and delivers some shade. I amended the soil properly this time around removing and replacing a lot of the clay with better soil. Turns out it's hard to grow plants in clay soil.

I'm watching it a lot more closely and hopefully it'll grow strong like our neighbor's tree (although unfair advantage since he's a professional landscaper).

Sometimes, you've just got to keep trying.

Ironman St. George 2020

I signed up for Ironman St. George May 2020. This will be my third St. George and ninth overall, I previously did the inaugural one in 2010 and again in 2011. Looks like IM St. George will also be the North American championship race and will rotate every three years as the designated NA championship race with other events.

I do have to say that St George in 2011 wasn't the best experience. I hit the "why am I doing this?" and "is this it?" walls pretty hard. I wasn't getting any faster, I wasn't competing (just participating), and it felt like a big waste of time and money.

So why sign up again? Being healthy and fit aren't exactly wastes of time and money. Being healthy is probably a good thing. These races are actually pretty fun and I'm locked in with this distance. I just can't get up for shorter distances, I prefer endurance vs. speed. And I miss it. Training is like active meditation for me, and the discipline and consistency it requires helps me with other parts of life that require discipline and consistency.

Anyway, wish me luck. IM St. George is no joke.

Ironman Santa Rosa 2020

Ironman Santa Rosa swim

I'm getting the bug again to do another Ironman. I'm thinking Ironman Santa Rosa which looks like the old Vineman course. Looks like it'll be some time in May which causes a little bit of a problem because it means I have to train during the Winter time. What's good about an event in May is I can get the rest of the Summer to do whatever I want. 

Not until 2020 though. I can't get in shape for the 2019 race plus I'm already past the deadline for the cheapie registration, it's like a $100-$200 more now.

Doesn't look like there are other races I'm interested to roll into, maybe Ironman Arizona November 2020. We'll see.

a better web

I'm ecstatic to join Brave software (as of last week). It's that same feeling of excitement after having joined Netscape and then mozilla, truly world changing teams. The energy and the mission at Brave are exactly right for this next generation web.

I also *love* the Web – all the good sites, all the bad sites, all the cutting edge sites, and especially all the older sites that may be designed challenged but still work pretty well. It's clear the web is broken for people now, it's more annoying than fun, the online ad industry needs a big shake-up, and people deserve a better web and a better browser that's a little more fresh for the times.

Privacy first. A better browser. A better web.

home energy checklist

energy history graph

In the US, the average household consumes 10,766 kilowatt hours or 897kWh a month. Louisiana is 14,881 kWh per year, Hawaii is the lowest at 6000 kWh per year.

With our 2 bed/1 bath house, we consumed 4748 kWh in 2008-2009 about 389 kWh per month. We're now at 2800 kWh for this year or 235 kWh per month, 154 kWh per month less.  Daily, we use about 3kWh to 10kWh a day. Can attribute the low usage mostly because of Oakland's temperate weather  and we made some energy efficient choices too over the years.

Here's a home energy checklist but for the most part this is what we did:

  • efficient properly sized central A/C and heater w/ Nest thermostat
    • double-pane windows (that we open when it's too hot instead of running A/C)
    • insulated attic (made a huge! difference) and subfloors, we could further insulate our walls but it would be expensive to do
    • strategic exterior landscaping provides shade to the house
  • energy star efficient appliances: refrigerator, dishwasher, front loading washing machine (spins out excess water)
  • efficient gas range and clothes dryer (gas dryer heats up and dries faster than electric, gas ranges technically aren't efficient but we have a super high btu range and convection stove so we do end up cooking a little faster)
  • LED light bulbs for every light (only a couple of CFLs in the bathroom) 3-20 watts per bulb down from 60-100 watts
  • efficient electronics, laptops e.g. Apple TV at .03 watts standby/5 watts on, down from DirecTV receiver's 18 watts standby/20 watts on
  • NOT buying high energy use/always on products and products we don't need

The only thing left to do is to update our gas tank hot water heater to a more efficient tankless water heater but that's not going to effect our energy usage that much. Not really that big a deal.

We also could install solar panels but as I had posted before, at 235 kWh a month, solar panel installation would need to be around $5k for us to breakeven.

What's great is that we aren't compromising convenience with being energy efficient nor are we overpaying to conserve energy. It's a bit of location luck and buying ready products that are thankfully environmentally sound.