Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fixing Electrical Problems & Feeling Like A Man

For some mysterious reason the light in our backroom when out a little while ago... and so did a single wall outlet... and changing the light bulb didn't help.

Welcome to summer project #1: Fixing the back room's electrical

Now, I have been very blessed to not have to deal with many electrical problems. And when I did, I was at home and let my dad handle the situation. Ah... growing up... I may not have been at home, but that didn't stop me from having multiple video conferences with my dad, including one where I literally propped up my phone so he could watch me test fixtures.

The light fixture. There are 3 sets of wires running into it.

Since I'm an electrical newbie, I couldn't figure it out and ending up calling an electrician for help. I learned from him that the trick is to figure out the logic of the wiring. Once you know the logic, you often find where the problem occurred. He also looks for clues: First, the age of the house will suggest wiring conventions of the time. Also, he looks for signs of repairs or "non-original" items. Apparently repair work is often done by a general contractor, who isn't an expert in electrical wiring, which is genuinely confusing, and therefore mistakes are often made.

It took him 45 minutes figure out what was going on. Which I felt good about how long it took since I gave him a head start by undoing everything and pointing out what worked and what didn't head of time. He assured me that it wasn't easy to figure out. He then spent 15 more minutes explaining to me how to fix the issue and providing me the necessary materials (wiring, boxes, nuts, etc) to complete the project.

I had 4 reasons for wanting to do it myself.

  • He charges $78 per hour. He estimated it would take him an hour to do it. Do you know how much Yogurt Extreme I can get for $78? Going out for "something sweet" is how Jessi & I reward ourselves for accomplishments.
  • Also, he also wanted to add another hole to my wall so he could do it easier. No thanks!
  • Furthermore, he wasn't 100% that's where the issues was. What if it was different once he started? Another hour or two?
  • Finally, this was something I wanted to learn how to do so I didn't need to call for help in the future.

So, off I went to fix the electrical.

The problem
Our back room is wired like a daisy chain. So one wall socket leads to the light fixture, which leads to another wall socket. The point of failure was where the wall socket went up the wall to the attic and over to the light fixture. The wire looked fine in the attic, which means it failed in the wall... right next to where a door had been added... A "non-original" item.

My guess is the cause of the mysterious failure is our treadmill. It's in this room, and when we run it tends to shake that part of the building. Being that it failed shortly after we started running on it for our half-marathon training, my guess is that we jiggled apart an already lose connection in the wall. 

The solution
Since the existing wiring is stapled in along the entire length it's impossible to pull it out. So the next best thing is to abandon it buy cutting off the two ends and installing a new wire parallel to it.

So, I headed up to the attic and drilled a new hole down to the wall. Then I used a new toy: a steel fish tape. I pushed that down the hole. Then I went back into the room and grabbed the tape out of the hole. I hooked the wire to the tape, went back into the attic and pulled the tape back up (along with the wire).

Cost at Home Depot: $10. Value to me: $100

The wire I used was strong enough to hold itself

Let's pause a talk about the attic for a little bit.

First, I put on a long-sleeve sweatshirt, safety glasses, and a mask.

Then I head up into a hole just barely big enough for me.

Then I enter into a HOT, dark, fluffy, short space.

I first had to find the fixtures, which was buried under all that fluff, which is insulation blown in. Oh yeah, and I did that while balancing on the beams so I didn't go through the drywall (aka. the ceiling).

This is the top of the light fixture. That white cord is the new wire.

It's hard to tell in this next picture, but roof is slanted, and the fixtures are near the end. Which means the spot where I actually pulled the tape through and re-strung the wire was not very tall. I literally only had enough room to crawl around on my belly. Swimming around in insulation, all covered up, got very, very hot.

So that's the attic. Now back to our story.

Once the wire was pulled through, I striped the plastic and hooked everything back up. With batted breath I turned the power back on and hoped for the best. Indeed, the light worked! I was 95% sure it would since I tested it earlier by temporarily connecting the wires in the room (thanks to Jessi's suggestion), but there's still that moment of doubt. :)

Here's a picture of the light fixture working, and a lamp plugged into the wall socket. A little clean-up, and the room was back to normal.

There's something very tricky about electricity. It reminds of my finance class in school. On the surface it seems pretty straightforward. Connect two wires and power flows. However, given how flexible electricity is, there are many creative ways to wire something up. There are also many safety precautions and principles you need to remember since electricity can be very dangerous. Combine these, and something that seems simple suddenly becomes very, very complicated.

So, being able to figure it out, along with working in the attic feels very manly. I'm also living off the high of completing my first summer project - which feels great!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Is My Dog Frisky?

I'm attempting to get some work done this morning, but my cute dog, Vinnie, has other plans. He's pulling at my shorts, my shirt, and on occasion attempting to hump my leg.

Thanks dude. You can stop now.

I wouldn't mind too much, but I really do have work to do and my legs are getting all scratched up. Maybe if I have a quick Zen-like moment and write about it I'll feel better. Maybe...

I just don't get it. I know that on occasion it means the dog is trying to dominate you. Other times he's genuinely frisky. I'm honestly not sure which one this is, but it's time to stop.

By the way, I did get him to sit long enough for me to take this picture, and then he jumped on me again. What a dog!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Apple's WWDC 2012 Keynote Too Hot Too Handle

On Monday morning Apple will be giving their 2012 WWDC Keynote to an audience packed with developers from the East Coast. Like all Apple events, there's only one thing guaranteed to come out of Monday: disappoint. You see, expectations are at an all time high for Apple this time round. If I didn't know any better, I'd think it is some massive conspiracy to set everyone's expectations way too high, only to be manically disappointed, so next year nobody will want to go.

Seriously, the list includes everything. It's a whole new Apple... as if they need to fix something... Here's what I remember just off the top of my head

  • MacBooks
    • A new Macbook Pro Redesign
    • A revival of the MacBook brand
    • New Intel Chips
    • USB 3.0 on the MacBook Pro
    • A Retina display MacBook
    • An entirely new MacBook! (this could be filed under the "MacBook revival")
    • A new Mac Pro design!
  • Software
    • iOS 6
      • A new Maps App, with turn-by-turn navigation
      • Facebook Integration
      • Siri API, plus for iPad
      • Another re-vamp of the Notification Center
      • New skins to choose from (like for the Settings App)
      • iCloud API
    • OSX Mountain Lion released
    • An Apple TV SDK, maybe even hardware!

Why is it that tech reporters feel the need to support every single rumor they hear? Sure, Apple probably is working on all of these, but they like to dole out information slowly. That way customers can absorb the changes a little bit at time. Plus, they're only human, it genuinely takes a while to create new products.

But that's not fun! I get that. It is more fun to dream of all the possibilities Apple has in store for us. Plus, no body remembers if you get it wrong, so there's no harm in guessing... err... predicting. As for me, as a current owner of an iMac and iPhone, I would love to only hear about updates to iOS and OSX (with free updates, please).

So, prepare to be utterly disappointed on Monday. Everything Apple comes out will either already be known, or a copy of something someone else already did. We'll all still buy it, and love it, but it'll be disappointing.

One More Thing!

Here are my predictions of what you won't see on Monday:
  • Control your iPad using Apple TV's remote
  • iWork coming to the upcoming Windows 8 tablet
  • Deep LinkedIn integration with iOS
  • Oprah Moment: all attendees get stock options ahead of Apple's dividend
  • iOS gets a file system similar to OSX
  • iAds rolling out to OSX apps & HTML5 websites
  • A tribute video to Steve Jobs where everyone wears his outfit and says "Insanely Great!"

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Thoughts On Building A Podcast

Back in December I shared that my brother and I started a tech podcast called Furlo Bros. We get together once a week, on Sunday at 8pm, to discuss the tech news. I have the business angle, and has the engineer angle, and we share the brotherly love. We just finished recording our 38th show (36 weekly, 2 specials), and I've learned a couple things about building a podcast.

If You Build It, They Will Come
In some sense, this is true. It's one of the magical things about the Internet: if you create something valuable, people find it and share it with others. That's how Google grew, how Facebook spread, and why Instagram got bought for $1 Billion. None of them spent money on "traditional" advertising (OK. OK. Google eventually did, but only after it was huge).

The only "advertising" I've done is post each shows on popular social sites: Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Delicious, and Google+. We've seen consistent growth each week. We're not "huge" yet, but we'll get there. I realize I could do more in these spaces, but I honestly don't have the time. I would love to interact with people more and post stories more regularly with commentary. Time seems to be my limiting factor.

If You Build It, Build It Well
Having said that, building something valuable is NOT easy. Even in the age of Wordpress where anyone can start a blog, it requires a lot of work. We have 15 plug-ins working to create a seemingly simple website. Most are designed to speed up the site, which is still too slow for my tastes, but we'll get there.

We also played around with a bunch of recording options before landing on our current favorite. We're now to a point where we can record everything in real time (No more hour-long sessions to mash it all together. Yeah!). In order to accomplish that, I spent an entire weekend (no joke - like 15 hours) playing with different software to make it work. Our current solution requires 5 different programs. I'm not sure what we'll do when I travel.

If You Build It, Build It To Last
Much like cell phones, we all get distracted by the up front costs required to get set up, and then only realize later that it's the monthly recurring costs that require the most from us. The same is true of podcasting. To fill up a 2 hour show I come up with about half the content. To do that, I skim 1,000 - 2,000 articles each week. I actually read 30-50 articles. I bookmark 10, and dive deep into a couple, only mentioning the others. It's a lot of work distilling down to the what I think is the top 1% of tech news that week!

Before starting the podcast, I used to skim about 1,000 articles each week because I enjoyed it, but there were some weeks that I could "take off" because I was busy. That really isn't an option any more. I've learned how to cheat on those weeks by finding a couple sources that cover the top news of the week, but even then it's still work.

If You Build It, Prepare To Be Delighted
We started this podcast because we enjoy talking about tech together. We also believed we had insights that others would appreciate. At the very least, we wanted to have it on record when we said something before anyone else. We're only 38 shows in , and I'm already addicted to it for one really big reason:

It's an awesome feeling to gain a new super-fan. Being a marketer I constantly ask if we're doing something unique and valuable. We do have the hope of someday making money, and that can only be accomplished by creating something uniquely valuable. I love hearing from real people that, yes, we are doing something entertaining, something valuable. Being that these are fellow tech enthusiasts, it's super fun when I suddenly get followed by the same person on 10 different services. It's moments like these that make all the work worth it. OK. Getting to talk to my brother each week for a couple hours is pretty fun too. :)


So those are my thoughts on building a podcast so far. We're just getting started, and I'm really enjoying the process. I'm sure I'll have more thoughts in the future, but that's enough for now.

PS. I still think our logo is beyond awesome.