Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spring Landscaping

What a misnomer. I can't get around to any landscaping this Spring. We've had a lot of bad weekends in the Chicago area recently. Three weeks ago it snowed, and it rained all of yesterday. Today looks to be another soaker.

We sunk the nice days into our raised garden beds. The Beta Household looks to grow fresh produce this year! I'm pretty excited for peppers and tomatoes right out of the garden. We're also adding in eggplant, beans, and broccoli, with a patch devoted to brussel sprouts in the Spring.

That meant stripping sod. A lot of sod. Ever strip sod? I thought digging a hole would be easy, but 80 sq ft of sod meant an entire damn day, a nasty sunburn to boot. The Dunkel that evening tasted so damn good.

In the end, we did manage to slap together a pair of 6x6 raised gardens. All we need now are dirt and plants.

It's looking pretty damn sad, but I'm happy to throw in the work. The one on the left, I sunk some posts and then tried to build the walls around.

Mmmmm, not the best idea. Something I learned: wood has a way of moving on its own. The lack of extra hands or vice grips made the project a real bitch and the shoddy worksmanship shows. Not even close to square:

The second was built above-ground. I drafted my Wife to help hold some of the wood together. My Dad gave me a long headshake because I didn't have mitered edges, but I don't have a compound miter saw. Christmas Present idea for the future?

The second ended up looking a lot better.

The edges are almost square, too!

I am not such a fan of the brick "walkway." But they're free! Leftover from the previous owner. I'll take the money savings right now and install some legitimate paver at some other point. I'll probably take these out and resettle them anyways, when it's a little drier. The mud made working a little difficult, and they're definitely bowing in the middle already.

I swear these actually lined up when I put them in....

All in all, at least I got a little work in. The only real project left will be a weed&feed, probably next weekend.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Feeling Rich

I spent this weekend among the rich and famous. Floor-to-ceiling windows, three-story mansions,  cavernous great rooms, all set against Lake steeped in the rich history of Chicago's movers and shakers.

Rum? Oh yes.
Seared Swordfish? Absolutely.
Home-made Chipotle cream? You betcha.

A beautiful weekend retreat, just for myself and my Wife. Just look at this Mansion:

And we saw it! From the outside!

I did spend the weekend with the rich and famous. I spent all weekend with my Wife, who has me, and an honorary Celebrity in the Beta Life for years. Nothing made me happier than pounding rum and watching Modern Family for hours.

And yes.

I ate Seared Swordfish. Seafood bisque. Some....weird-ass schnitzel thing. Kilwin's chocolate. Yes, I felt rich.

We also saw mansion after mansion. The 1% built some rather impressive estates right along the Lakefront. And "Alta Vista" above ranked among my least favorites. If you want to feel like uncultured, impoverished, pedestrian swine, by all means, take the Lake Geneva hike. 

 I felt sore afterwards. I still can't walk right. Stupid 14 mile hike. Don't let those pictures fool you: much of the "path" is really dirt trail, or even worse

Still, for a brief while, I didn't feel so rich. 

You know what those mansions used to have, though?

This is a cesspit. This was introduced in the 16th Century for storing human crap. During the population boom of the Early Modern Age, cities couldn't keep up with removing human garbage, so they built these amazing pits that could hold crap.

Just imagine . 10,000 years of human civilization, and we achieved the awesome technology of storing crap under your home.

Does that sound awesome or what? Come home from a hard days work, sit down at your hearth, open your Bible.

Your nose twitches.

You ignore the foul stench working through your home, until your eyes bleed water.

Oh man. The cesspit. So incredible. In this day, a "cesspit" is the Illinois State Legislature, not the Illinois Sanitation's division favorite tool.

This is what I got. I got two of these. I feel like a wizard on this thing. A flick of the wrist, and this thing anti-leviosas my crap into a public sewer system. I don't have to worry about cholera wiping out 5% of the city anymore . Nope, I live in a clean home. No feces smell here.

That's incredibly rich. My ability to dump my literal crap into a system I don't even have to think about puts me on ground far above any pre-modern aristocracy. Louis XIV might shake his fist at me, but I can just flush a toilet and drown him in feces.  


Flash-forward to February 2016:

 My Wife found a puddle of water. In our basement. It was a sunny day, and our sump was bone-dry.


I do not fork almost two grand a month to live in Medieval Squalor. I do not want to live over human shit. I do not tolerate possible infection to my drinking water!

In a few minutes, my awesome 21st Century Google-Fu determined we had a main sewer line back-up. Our puddle? Greywater from the washing machine and dishwasher.

Better than human shit in my basement, I assure you.

I tried the first plumber on Yelp. Answering machine.

Second number. The guy barely spoke English. I didn't give a damn and had an appointment booked.

40 minutes, a plumber comes to the door, and hooks up his rooter. It's an ingenious little thing:

This little steel bugger goes down the drain and rips through the blockage. Within minutes, the water clears and we have a dry basement again.

The next day, I had the guy come back out to camera the line. Hmmmm...ends up looking a little something like this:

That's a tree root, breaking into a sewer pipe. I don't need to explain why this ruins my 20th century plumbing. Water and solids run poorly through half blocked by tree roots.

See, most pipes break over time. Around my house, builders laid out clay pipes, which are especially susceptible to tree root intrusion. And American Suburbia LOVES trees. I only have one on my parkway, but the neighbor has three on his property alone.

My Dad? He had two trees on his property and another FOUR in his parkway! I remember water filling up in our downstairs shower: that pissed my Dad off for weeks, until he gave up rotting the line himself and called Roto-Rooter.

That's what I did.

Did you know 73% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck?

That might be an overestimate. Don't quote me. I know nothing about BankRate, so maybe they lied out their ass. I do not know.

I know that a lot of Americans struggle. And I know a lot of Americans have no savings to speak of.

I also know this repair could have been disastrous. We asked for a few opinions on our pipes. One guy recommended a pipe replacement. $5,000.

Could've been worse. Our pipe empties into the parkway across the street. Estimated cost to repair the street? $30,000.

Oh, you thought your taxes goes to dig up the street and repair it? Nope, that's out of YOUR pocket.

Thankfully, the Beta Household could have afforded all of this. This would have wiped out all of our emergency savings (which we are still building), but we could have taken the hit.

How many American households would've just loaded on the credit card debt?

As it stands, we ended up spending something like $1300 to clear out the line. We're cash-flow negative for the month. Barely.

And partly due to some over generous birthday-gifting.

And some fancy restaurant meals.

I was in Lake Geneva, after all.


So let's talk about engineering. Or politics. Or both.

Chicago pulled off some engineering miracles to keep this city out of the crapper. Urban sanitation is a headache for most cities. Chicago is no different.

We go all the way back to the 1840s, back when Chicago was the fastest growing city in the country. We realized we needed a modern sewer system. We also realized we already had a city built. And it's hard to build a sewer under a bunch of buildings already built.

See, this is why urban planning matters. You want to plan out your crap ahead of time. I think this is why project managers  are in such high demand. I don't know. This is also why Paris is so awesome. They had Napoleon III, the best urban planner in most of history. Unfortunately, he did not inherit any good generalship.

Chicago came up with an interesting solution.

Yep, if you can lift up a car on a jack, you can lift up a building. Chicago built an entire sewer system underneath the raising the entire city.

That's not even the biggest achievement.

The Chicago River was essentially an open air sewer, and we drained all the waste into Lake Michigan. This scared the hell out of city residents: we drink from Lake Michigan.

The solution?

Make the river run backwards.

We dug a massive canal and threw on a whole series of locks. All in all, Chicago spent $70 million. The river reversed, and our sewage flowed away from the city.

But that's not all.

Since the 1970s, Chicago has spent over $3 billion on Deep Tunnel. See, Chicago is actually built on a swamp. Worse, Chicago has become horrifically over-developed. We've lost all our major wetland storage, which means heavy flooding is somewhat routine here.

Here's how Des Plains looks during flood season:

The only way to keep Chicago itself from flooding is releasing large amounts of untreated sewage into Lake Michigan.


Bad idea.

Deep Tunnel is basically a sewer for the sewer system, and features a bunch of reservoirs to hold water so it can be released more slowly. You know, instead of getting dumped into the damn Lake.

Wikipedia says this has made the Chicago River a lot cleaner. I am not sure about HOW much cleaner. I've kayaked in the Chicago River once, and I assure you I never want to do that again.

Overall, this system is a hell of an improvement over historical systems:

And I don't mind the $3 billion or 60 years it is taking to complete the damn thing.

You'll find me pretty Conservative, but I am Conservative in the sense of "I like Jeb Bush" conservative. Not the Ted Cruz-destroy-government conservatism.

Libertarian? No. I actually kind of like the EPA. They do cool things like not letting local governments operate like India.

Extreme tax cutter? No. I actually voted for Pat Quinn. He raised the Illinois State Income Tax. I like balanced budgets.

Racist? Not really. Maybe you disagree, but I have a relatively diverse group of friends. Most of my college friends are 1st or 2nd Generation immigrants from Eastern Europe or South Asia.

I just am a practical, business-as-usual kind of guy. I think things are going pretty swell. I like my public services, like garbage collection, sewage disposal, secondary education, and law enforcement. Most of my ancestors lived in squalid holes as illiterate peasants governed by corrupt feudal lords and routinely robbed and murdered.

Nope, nope, nope. Give me my government, make it only as large as necessary, and make sure the books balance. Thank you very much.

I can do without the preaching and the dog whistles from the Republican Party. I really could do without Trump braggadocio.

On the other hand, I can't deal much with modern Democrats.

I can't deal with the Socialism
I can't deal with zero border enforcement.
I can't deal with blowing ten billion dollars on trains.
I can't deal with stupid renewable energy programs.
I can't deal with over-aggressive and probably illegal EPA climate control, because said renewable energy sucks.

To me, the Democrats reflect nothing but moronic socialism, clean-energy activism, and horrid social injustice programs. I'll never vote for a Democrat again. I'll even take Trump over any Democratic candidate (save maybe Jim Webb, who is supporting Trump anyways).

This is because I am, in fact, rich. And so are most Americans.

Someday they might even notice it.

If only they would quit their bitching.