Friday, August 31, 2012

Table Talk

Table Talk featuring Steven Marshall was one of our favorite pieces when we saw reMIX by Momix on Long Island last weekend.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Money does grow on trees

We’d like to prune our two small ornamental fruit trees in our front yard: a crabapple and a Japanese cherry. When we pruned the crabapple in 2011, it was a major structural pruning starting with a larger form than now, and cost $90. The Japanese cherry is smaller (taller, but much less mature, much smaller diameter, and much less work needed). Seemed like it should be $150-$180 to do both trees.

AC, who did the pruning in 2011 for $90 on one tree, quoted us $260 for the two trees this year.

BTP quoted us $275. The guy seems to have a better idea of what we’re aiming for, but they also recommend that we do winter moth spraying with spinosad/Conserve (early on the fruit trees for $75, later on the large maple out back for $125). And fertilize the large maple for $90, or $150 if we fertilize from the neighbor’s side as well. And do a thinning on the large maple for $875 to remove dead wood and improve air flow. These all seem like nice things to do, but not necessary.

I’d rather pay someone by the hour for the pruning, if I could find someone who knew what they were doing, talked to us about what we wanted, and then did a careful job.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The plumbing adventure begins

A simple problem: our kitchen sink drains too slowly. We tried plunging, which never did much. We tried an enzyme-based drain cleaner, which didn’t help. And as of today, slowly means in terms of geologic eras, and the dishwasher drain is on a sympathy strike. Which makes sense since they both go into the same drain pipe, though I can get the sink to drain a bit and I can’t get the dishwasher to drain at all. Everything else in the house seems to be draining fine, so it shouldn’t be the sewer line. Snake-It-Away will show up tomorrow morning at 7:30 and fix the problem for $135. Hopefully with a mechanical solution, rather than by pouring $135 of caustic chemicals down the drain.

We have a lot of these simple plumbing problems. A broken outdoor pipe to an outside faucet (needs a new pipe run indoors to a new location out back, since this location is too exposed for a pipe). A leaking gate valve shutoff to a different outside faucet (needs a better ball valve shutoff). Two leaking house gate valve shutoffs in series (needs a better ball valve shutoff, which means coordinating with the city to shut off water from the street for half a day). More complicated: a leaking cast iron drain junction (needs to be carefully patched with PVC without damaging the rest of the main stack, and which means disconnecting and moving a godawful heavy washing machine and then reconnecting it afterwards). And if we had a plumber who could tackle all of these things, we could talk about running a line for our refrigerator, or adding a little sink to our quarter bath, or someday redoing our kitchen or main bathroom. And fixing some of the odd gas piping in the house.

But we’ll start with this one, since I like having a dishwasher and kitchen sink.

Update 8/29/2012: Snake-It-Away showed up at 7:40, charged $125, used a powered snake, and pointed out that the sink trap is too low to be removable and the drain pipe in the basement has no cleanout port. They were able to take apart the drain pipe in the basement where it first goes to horizontal, and run the snake through to the main stack. And now the drain works properly for both the sink and the dishwasher. Their advice for the future is that every 6 months we should stopper the sink, fill the sink up with warm water, and then let the whole sink of water drain at once to help flush the drain pipe.

If we have a drain problem with the Bosch dishwasher in the future that isn’t affecting the sink, here are a couple of useful references:

Update 2/16/2013

Main water shut-off: The city put in a new water shutoff before the meter when they changed our water meter, so we can use that. The worn-out water shutoff is still in place and doesn’t work very well, but it’s harmless if we don’t use it. We now have a new ball valve (lever) shutoff where the incoming water goes horizontal at the basement ceiling, which works great.

The leaking gate valve shutoff to the driveway faucet has been replaced by a nice new ball valve (lever) shutoff.

The drain for the washing machine now goes into the drain pipe between the utility sink drains. The previous drain standpipe has been capped so it can’t leak sewer gases. The cracked cast iron drain junction near the main stack has been patched with a marine epoxy and then wrapped with a clear plastic seal, and should only have water in it if the main drain line for the house backs up.

Which it now has.

The first call was to the city water department at 781-393-2403, and they came out about 30 minutes later to check the sewer line in the street. Everything is running correctly there, so we’re waiting for Snake-It-Away to return to clean out the main drain line in the house between the stack and the street. The sewer line is backed up into the utility sinks (though far more into the closer of those sinks than the other), and apparently forced some water out the base of the downstairs toilet? I’m not sure how that happened.

We thought it was just a clogged drain pipe between the utility sinks and the main stack, and I bought a snake at Home Depot yesterday to try tackling that today. I’m glad we discovered that it’s a bigger problem than that before opening up the trap cleanout below the utility sinks.

Snake-It-Away thought they solved the problem by snaking the main drain from the cleanout to the house trap, but that didn’t work for the basement utility sinks and washing machine drain. That required opening the trap cleanout, opening the vent cleanout, snaking in all directions, and then finally using a compressed air charge down each of the sink drains with all other connected openings plugged with rags or plungers in order to get things working. We’ll see if that does it.

The snake down the main drain went about 20 feet towards the street before hitting what the plumber thinks is a house trap, which was apparently common in older houses as a way to stop sewer gases from coming up the main drain into the house. He recommends digging out that house trap and replacing it with straight drain pipe, but I’m not convinced that’s feasible or wise. My uninformed guess is that it is possible to snake through a house trap if necessary, since so many houses have house traps.

Trenchless drain replacement is now an option, where a company uses the old drain line to pull a new drain line. There’s a couple of options depending on how much you want to break apart or blow up the old drain line as you go, but it’s a way to solve a tree root problem or a collapsed drain line problem. Not sure what happens when a trenchless operation hits a main house trap.

On our “to do” list: Replace the driveway sillcock with a frost-proof one. Replace the burst pipe section under the back deck. Possibly find a new location for a back yard sillcock, perhaps on the park side. Run a water line to the refrigerator. Find out what would be involved in replacing the main stack (and how we know it’s necessary), replacing the main drain (and how we know it’s necessary), redoing all lead-soldered connections, moving items around the kitchen, adding a sink to the first floor bathroom, and moving items around the second floor bathroom.

Lead testing

Lead is a bad thing to ingest. How bad? Don’t worry about it.

Lead is a good thing to test. When? Don’t worry about it. How? Don’t worry about it.

I find lack of information leads to more worrying than an abundance of information, so here’s what I’ve learned:

The CDC used to tell everyone not to worry about blood lead levels less than 10 µg/dl in children up to age 6, but recently lowered that to less than 5 µg/dl. So if it’s less than 5, everything is fine.

Unless you believe the studies which all agree that there is no safe level. There was nothing magical about 10, and there’s nothing magical about 5. There are just cost/benefit analyses. A few µg higher will cost you a few IQ points permanently, but you probably weren’t going to use all those IQ points anyway. The lower the lead level, the more IQ points each µg costs you.

What can you do to reduce blood lead levels? Reduce exposure. Chelation is not recommended for moderate amounts of lead.

Blood lead testing only measures exposure over the past month or two. It’s not the same as measuring uptake into various tissues.

EP or ZPP testing can give some additional info:

The EP helps to determine whether the lead in the child's system is having any type of effect on the body that we can measure. EP is one of the only ways to look for an effect of lead on the child. By looking at EP we can get a better idea of how much lead is in the body. Another way to think about EP is this: because EP is made in the body’s tissues, if EP is elevated, it suggests that other body tissues (such as the kidney or brain) are also being affected by the lead.

The EP can sometimes also be used to determine for how long the child was exposed to lead. It can also determine whether the child is still being exposed to lead; when children have another exposure to lead, the EP will rise. Finally, the EP helps the doctor to manage the child’s lead poisoning; as the lead poisoning is treated (for example, with chelation), the EP falls to the normal range.
Back to blood lead level testing. There are different testing methods, and the results are not always consistent. They have varying degrees of accuracy, varying lower threshholds, and may consistently underestimate or overestimate the amount of lead in the sample.

Winchester Hospital reports out any result less than 1.4 as simply less than 1.4. Boston Children’s Hospital uses GFAAS and reports out any result less than 2 as simply less than 2. Quest reports out any result less than 3.3 or 3.5 as simply less than 3.3 or 3.5 (according to our pediatrician).

I’d love to find a local lab that uses ICP-MS, which can be reasonably accurate down to 0.1, but no luck yet.

Some sources:,,,,, calls to Boston Children’s Hospital Chemistry Lab (don’t bother with Lab Control, Drawing Lab, or the Blood Donor Center).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Progress at Readercon

The Readercon Board of Directors has resigned or announced that they will resign. The old board stepping down is not a complete fix, but is a necessary step. There are hundreds of people who signed the petition and said they would not attend Readercon in the future unless this happened. The old board lost all credibility on the issues of keeping attendees safe, respecting women, and following their own established rules. The old board also would not have been able to set new rules of any sort and have anyone believe them. And by remaining in place, they would have compounded this public relations disaster.

I have no idea if the old board members are fleeing entirely in a huff or are going to stick around to pass on knowledge, answer questions, assist in the transition, and/or continue to do some of the work involved in keeping the con going. They don't need to continue to be on the board in order to do those things, and hopefully the community will not sense blood in the water and demand that the old board members also be permabanned from any association with Readercon. Many people love Readercon and recognize that some or much of what we love about Readercon is due to the hard work of the old board members. It's just that after this debacle, the old board members can no longer effectively set policy, enforce policy, or be a public face of the leadership of Readercon. The con needs new people to do those things.

I am relieved to know that the board members have recognized what the community needs to hear soon from a new board: This is not your father's Readercon board. Though perhaps phrased differently.