Archive for the ‘Daily Living’ Category

The wife and I have done a ton of renovations to real estate this year:

  • The wife replaced the bathtub walls and counter in her rental condo
  • I replaced the tub and tub-walls in my rental condo
  • We replaced the master bedroom’s bathroom in the house where we are living
  • The wife’s parents sold a house and the wife is acting as the power of attorney, and had to oversee a whole bunch of required upgrades before we could sell
  • I am on the Board of my condo association, so not only do I manage my own property but help manage the entire complex
  • We are looking to do some more renovation work of the main bathroom in the house where are living, not mention fixing up some drainage issues (and not to mention taking care of another drainage problem earlier this year, as well as adding insulation to the undercarriage of the house)

Whew. That’s a lot of work.

However, what I’ve found is that I’ve gotten good at noticing when something is done well and when it’s done cheaply, and not been impressed with expensive housing.

Across the street from Microsoft, there’s a $1.7 million house for sale. It sold last year, and the wife and I went to look at it. At the time, we were like “Wow! This is a nice place! We’ll never afford it of course, it’s way too much money.”

But this year it was up for sale again. The previous owner who bought the year before had to move back to the east coast, and put it on the market for $100k above last year’s price. The wife and I went to check it out again.

We were not impressed.

While some parts of the house were nice, the walls had been drawn on by kids and it wasn’t totally cleaned up. The master bathroom was nice, but it gigantic. It was the size of a large bedroom, and the walk-in closet the size of a small bedroom. I said to myself “What a waste of space.”

But it’s not just that, the other bathrooms had cheap plastic tubs installed. The counters were okay, but just… okay. Indeed, most of the house was adequate, but for $1.7 million I expected way more. We remodeled our own bathroom this year and were trying to keep costs down, and all bathrooms in this $1.7 million house – except the main one – were no nicer than our new one.

Even now when the wife and I go snooping in open houses during the summer or fall, we’ve started getting pretty good at seeing if something is well-built or not. And there’s a lot of overpriced junk out there. It’s pretty clear that real estate prices are driven primarily by location, and not by quality. This is doubly true in Seattle where houses go for even more than they do on the east side of the lake.

I feel like if I wanted to go into real estate development, I could be pretty good at it since I have some experience at it now. For sure, I’d need to get a lot more training under my belt, but if I’ve gotten this far just doing it haphazardly, I could become a real expert if I did it full time.

Of course, if I get a degree in diplomacy, when exactly when I have time for that?


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The wife and I hand wash our dishes.

This means that instead of using the dishwasher, we pop them in the sink and do them by hand. I don’t mind doing this, it only adds perhaps 10-15 minutes to clean up. Plus, the dishwater often leaves ugly water stains which don’t come off.

The drawback of hand washing dishes is that we break a lot of them. I’ve broken several plates and glasses, and so has the wife. But it accelerated this past week.

I was washing a plate in the sink when it slipped out of my hand and fell against the bottom of the sink. It didn’t drop far, maybe 3 inches. But it left a chip and a crack in the side of it, rendering it unusable because it could cut you if you weren’t careful (most people won’t be careful).

Then a few days later, I was washing a wine glass. We had bought two inexpensive wine glasses from an estate sale a few weeks ago to replace the previous wine glasses that we had broken. Well, the wife broke one of those. So anyhow, I had the other wine glass in the sink and was washing a frying pan. It slipped out of my hand and landed on the wine glass, breaking it.


The next day I decided to head down to the store to pick up two new wine glasses to replace the pair that we had broken. I went after work and had my backpack with me. I bought the two glasses and the clerk wrapped them in paper and put them in a shopping back (I didn’t put them in my backpack). I headed to my car and tossed in my backpack. I then got into the car, and brought the other bag into the car… and whacked the bag of wine glasses against the side of the car, breaking one.

I had broken yet another wine glass on the very same day I bought it!

Argh, again!

Washing dishes by hand is getting more and more inconvenient the more clumsy I get.

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Some time ago, we discovered that our garage door opener wasn’t working. I tried to debug it, but was unable to. My ladder didn’t go high enough and I didn’t have the right tools.

Some time later, a handyman came by to inspect it. I showed him that neither the remote control opener, nor the button connected to the garage door opener, was working. He checked the electrical power and it was working, so the diagnosis was that the garage door opener motor was dead and we’d have to get a new one.

The handyman got a new one from the store but was unable to install it himself, but I said “No problem, we’ll get someone else to do it.” I secretly thought I could do it myself.

I never did it, though, as I didn’t have time.

Fast forward to today, and we’re getting our master bathroom remodeled. One of the tasks we asked one of the guys to do was to replace the garage door opener. So, this weekend, me and one of the contractors proceeded to try to fix it.

We already had the new garage door opener sitting in the garage, and I thought it would be a matter of snapping off the old one, and snapping in a new one.


It turns out we had to disassemble the entire garage door opener – disconnect the power, take down the motor, take down the chains, take down the steel bar that connects to the door, remove the brackets connecting the bar to the wall as well as bar to the door… everything.

It was not fast work. We removed it piece by piece, and I got to use a bunch of tools I had in the garage (my ratchet set came in handy). I also had to make a couple of runs to Home Depot because some of the required pieces were not sent with the opener.

Six hours later (3 hours yesterday, and 3 hours today) we are almost finished. We just have to install a couple of motion sensors. That will complete tomorrow.

However, the uber point I am making is that I was completely wrong in my estimation that it would only take an hour or two to replace the opener. I was so very, very wrong, I couldn’t have been wronger if my name was W. Wrongie McWrongenstein.

Even though I am good at programming and abstract concepts, and not too bad at mechanical engineering, this was beyond my ability. As straightforward as the installation now was in hindsight, at the time I would have been perplexed; my patience would have grown too thin, and I also probably would have broken a whole bunch of things, too.

What I have discovered about house repair is that it is really difficult to gain all the necessary expertise yourself to maintain your own place. Basic yardwork you can do, and maybe even weeding, and maybe even painting, and maybe even gardening. But you can’t possibly know how to do all the plumbing yourself. Or electrical. Or insulation. Or structural remodeling. Or any number of tasks. You have to do it fulltime to gain the necessary expertise.

Why does that matter?

Because amateur work looks like amateurs did it. In the house we’re living in, it’s clear that amateurs did a lot of the work, and the quality is obvious. For example, the insulation in the attic was too thin, it was installed as a cost-saving measure, and it allowed rodents to get in. We remodeled the house before we moved in, but saved costs. The paint on the house interior is not that great, it scuffs up super easily. It seems like it’s just a single coat.

If I were to do all this stuff myself, it would be just as poor quality. The paint strokes would be obvious. The flooring would be uneven. The fence wouldn’t be straight. And on and on and on.

That’s why you should never buy your kids a house if they couldn’t afford it on their own. If they can’t afford the maintenance if they were to buy it on their own, they wouldn’t be able to afford it if you were to gift it to them. And that means either they’d do an amateur job and it would show, or they wouldn’t do it at all and the house would deteriorate.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Time off for jury duty

At the end of last month, and the start of this month, I was called in for jury duty. I had already deferred it once, so I had to go in this time.

I had to get up early, and I took the bus downtown to be there at 8 am. Normally, I don’t start work until a bit after 9 am. So, this was much earlier.

I got down there, went through a security screening and went to the jury room where I checked in and got my badge. I had to fill in some survey, and I told them that I took the bus downtown because they were going to reimburse me.

The King County Courthouse is a pretty nice building, but it’s in a slightly sketchier area of the city, Pioneer Square. It’s not that sketchy, but there are a lot of homeless people around and they regularly hang around.

Anyhow, I was waiting in the jury room with about 100 other people. Some were there from a case that started on the Monday of that week (I went down on Wednesday). They played a video explaining the justice process, and then I waited some more.

After more waiting, another judge or lawyer or something came in and explained the process. They then started sorting people out and the first set of people from the previous case was called out.

After more waiting, they started calling people up to the next jury. My name was called, so I grabbed my stuff and up we went to the floors above. We were led into a weird order from 1 to 53 and then brought into the court room where we saw the judge, bailiff (who explained everything to us about the process), a security guard, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the defendant.

This is when it began. The trial goes through a process called de jure. The lawyers explained what the charge was but then started talking a bunch of theoretical statements about the law in general, and how they might relate to the facts of the case.

The way it used to work is that each lawyer would have three minutes to talk to each member of the potential audience pool, all 53 of us. That could take 53 x 6 = 318 minutes, = 5 hours and 18 minutes.

That would be miserable, but it’s the old way.

The new way is for the prosecutor and defense attorney to talk about hypotheticals and ask the potential jury pool questions. “Juror 32, what do you think about ‘x’ ?” It was a lot like a talk show.

They asked about potential conflicts of interest, and what people thought about various things as they might relate to the case.

Some people were dismissed because they had ties to the prosecutor (they knew him), or the judge (they knew her), or they had scheduling conflicts that would cause “undo hardship.” Some people piped up and said they just didn’t want to serve, and some got dismissed but not all.

That reduced the pool from 53 to around 40. Of those, 13 would be chosen (12 jurors plus an alternate). Each lawyer gets to dismiss 7 jurors each. People would be dismissed, and we’d all get up and shift to fill in seats. The prosecutor and defense attorney make their decisions based upon the responses that jurors make, or based upon reactions that they make in response to questions.

The people in the lower numbers will end up on the jury if they aren’t initially dismissed because they start out in the jury box. The people in the benches only end up there if enough people ahead of them get dismissed.

I was the last person selected to be on the jury.

We were sworn in on a Thursday at around 3:45 pm, and then dismissed for the weekend (there is no trial on Fridays, only [potential] jury deliberations). We were told not to read up or do any research on the case.

And with that, I left to go home. The trial would start on Monday.

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For several months now, I had been thinking about taking an online course about art.

For you see, I started reading a couple of books about art. I had by Rick Steves about art history, then I picked up another book from Half Price Books, and then I watched numerous videos on Khan Academy about art. It was fascinating.

But recently, I’ve been getting flyers in the mail from The Great Courses, and one of the courses was called How to Look at and Understand Great Art:


This is a 36-lecture series, and I am currently on episode 8. I come home and after eating, cleaning up, and exercising, I like to watch a video. This doesn’t happen every day, but it happens often enough.

The course costs around $200, but I got it on sale for something like $30. That’s about $1/lesson, which is a fantastic deal.

It starts off on the basics about composition, color, balance, lines, and perspective. These are all things I may have learned at one point but have long since forgotten. Or, I picked up bits and pieces when I was reading other books on how to make good designs in presentations. But this course brings it all together.

It’s even made abstract art a bit easier to understand.

I’m looking forward to making my way through the rest of it so that next time I go to an art museum – any museum – I will have a new level of appreciation.

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I’ve wanted a second mural for several months now, and this past month the wife finally let me get another one.

It had been rolling around in my head a long time what I wanted to get, and we finally came up with the below:

Image may contain: indoor

I think this is a fantastic mural!

We went through a lot of different options but ultimately we went with a variation of a painting in the Louvre by Giovanni de Panini. The dimensions had to be modified to fit our wall to make it more rectangular instead of the square that is the original:


2. We removed a bunch of the neoclassical themes from Panini’s painting, I thought it was a little over-the-top. You can see that there is statue after statue, and painting after painting, of Greek thinkers and symbols.

Yeah, that was too much.

3. The painting on our wall is not of neoclassical images but instead of various places that we have been to. These are anachronisms, that is, there’s no way the people in the painting could have been to those locations.

The idea of inserting anachronisms comes from Raphael’s "The School of Athens".

There are plenty of anachronisms in this painting. So instead of a ton of neoclassical references, there are medieval references (left side of mural):




…but also places that the artist would never have been to (right side of mural):



4. In Panini’s original painting, the people are no one special (as far as I know). In this one, they’ve been replaced by well known Enlightenment thinkers, or scientists. Starting from the left:

  • Isaac Newton, known for his three laws of motion
  • Albert Einstein, known for his work on the photoelectric effect and theory of relativity
  • John Locke, known for his work on theory of government in that it exists to protect the natural rights of humanity (life, liberty, and property – rephrased to "pursuit of happiness in the US Constitution)
  • Adam Smith (standing in front of Lock), known for his work on the moral philosophy of free markets
  • It’s supposed to be Baron de Montesqueue, known for his work on the separation of powers in government to prevent one branch of government from becoming too powerful (thus countering Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan); except that it’s actually John Stuart Mill, known for his work on the moral philosophy of utilitarianism



5. Finally, our cats said they both wanted to be in the painting. So, we obliged:



Good stuff!

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Last month, I was watching the last episode the year of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. His final segment was a tribute to the year 2016 as a year-in-review, but it was good riddance to 2016 as the video was a bunch of people swearing at the past year.

Similarly, on other friends’ Facebook wall, I see a lot of people complaining about the year 2016 and how it was a dumpster fire, a complete train wreck.

Well, I don’t align with that at all. The reason people complain about 2016 is for three reasons:

1. Brexit

This happened in June, and it got the political year off to a shaky start. Yet, if you were one of the 52% of British people [1] who voted for it, you’re quite pleased with this result so you don’t think this is a problem at all.

2. Donald Trump getting elected President of the United States

This came as a shock to many, including myself, and I wasn’t happy about it. But I’m now only slightly negative-neutral.

But if you were one of the 46% of Americans [2] who voted for Trump, you’re not disappointed at all in this result. In fact, you’re quite happy.

3. A bunch of musicians and entertainers who were famous in the 70’s and 80’s died

Yes, there were lots of entertainers who passed away this year, but that happens every year. We all get older, it’s an inevitability. I don’t have any particular affinity to any of these singers or actors, other than Alan Thicke. And I bet that a lot of people have the same view as me, too. They’re just not that attached to famous celebrities.

But for me, 2016 wasn’t all that bad. What can I name off the top of my head?

Even though we got a second cat last year, the fighting lasted a long time. Now, Esmerelda and Ruby get along…most of the time.


In terms of travel, the wife an I visited Germany this past year, along with a quick side trip to Luxembourg, and also to Austria.



And then later on in the year, we went to France:



We also made a trip to the Canadian Rockies in the summer:


We made a trip up to Kelowna, B.C., to visit relatives:


– We also did a handful of quick trips to places within a day’s drive of where we live

– Besides that, we also had my aunt and uncle come down and visit us in March, and again in June, and then my parents came out to visit in October.

– Financially, we did okay this year. We paid off the mortgage on the condo I bought in 2008, meaning that we are completely debt free as of this past September. That means my rental property is now cashflow positive.


– I maxed out my 401k this year for the first time, and my company also now matches it 50 cents on the dollar. I also contributed the max amount to my traditional IRA. That means for the first time ever, I contributed the maximum amount to my deferred contribution retirement plans [3].

– The wife and I celebrated our five year anniversary. We’re still together!

(The below picture was taken in Kelowna, a couple of weeks before our actual anniversary).


– I didn’t have any hip surgeries this year. That’s a good thing (the one drawback of the year is that my neck is more sore than it was at the start of the year).

– We had plenty of good food this year, trying out a couple of new restaurants and having a great culinary experience in Paris, and Germany. We discovered a Polish restaurant in Seattle, and an amazing Afghan restaurant here in Bellevue. I also discovered rainbow hummus at my favorite Turkish restaurant.

– I discovered I really like German beer

– I got my US citizenship in January!

– I went hiking at Mt Dickerman which is in the north/central Cascade mountains. Last time I did this hike in 2011, I nearly died. This time around I took a friend and I found it wasn’t that difficult… although maybe that’s because he was going slow.

– Professionally, while I didn’t get a promotion (yet again), I did get quite a few things accomplished and am seen as a leading expert in my field.

I also volunteered to become a backup board member of M3AAWG (an anti-abuse working group), and take on the vice-chair role of the Auth Indicators Working Group, and group dedicated to #MakeEmailGreatAgain.

– The wife did a bunch of hiking without me in eastern Oregon

– The wife’s dad (my father-in-law) did a round-the-world cruise. 104 days to visit a ton of places

* * * * * * * * * *

So you see, while everyone else is complaining about how awful 2016 was, my experience not only did not align with that, it was the exact opposite.

I’m not sure how 2017 can top 2016, but I wasn’t sure how 2015 could have been topped, either.

But we’re going to give it a shot.

[1] Technically a voter in the United Kingdom, not just a British person since Britain is only England, Scotland, and Wales

[2] Actually, 46% of people who voted. Voter turnaround was less than 60% of the voting-eligible population

[3] Not counting the magic of doing a backdoor Roth

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