Monday, June 28, 2010

DIY: Laminate Part II

If you have been wondering if I left my basement looking unfinished, fear not. I have continued on quest to install laminate flooring. When I last left you, I had ripped up the carpet, removed the tack strips, and hammered out the nails. Then, of course, I swept the floor.

Then next step is laying down the underlayment. As far as I know, there are two reasons for underlayment. The first is to cushion the floor. The second is simple barrier protection. You want something between the subfloor and the floor you are installing. For most subfloors, you just need a foam underlayment. But when you are in a basement, you also need a moisture barrier. And as I mentioned before, the underlayment under the carpet I tore up lacked a moisture barrier. So I bought nine hundred square feet of two-in-one underlayment, which contains the moisture barrier. I rolled it all out and cut it up to cover the entire floor. The tip to cutting underlayment is to use scissors, and not an utility knife.

The next step would be to start laying the laminate tiles. But being the obsessive person that I am, I first considered what I would need to lay the laminate. If you think about how the laminate will be laid down, you can easily see that you will need to cut the laminate in several instances. First, you will need to make crosscuts and lengthwise cuts (known as rip cuts as I learned) as you get to the walls of the room. You will also need to make partial cuts when you get to pillars and odd corners. Given the number of cuts that will be needed, a hand saw is clearly out of the question. A table saw would be ideal, since it offers the ability to make both cross cuts and rip cuts with both accuracy and a straight edge. Unfortunately, it is also quite expensive if you do not plan one using it for future projects and do not have storage space for it. Then there is the miter saw, which gives the accuracy but is unable to make long rip cuts. What is left? The circular saw is left. It has the ability to make all different kinds of cuts, but relies heavily on freehand movements, so the edges are difficult to keep absolutely straight. But there are solutions for that.

There are laser fitted circular saws that show you where you are cutting. Not a bad idea, but it still requires that you have a steady hand. Even if you are able to correct your sawing path you will not end up with a perfectly straight cut. There are also straight edges that you cat buy that allow you to run the edge of the circular saw against. That provides a straight cut, but you then have to make another measurement between the saw blade and the straight edge to ensure a correctly sized cut. For me that doubles the time for cutting and introduces more error than necessary. I do not plan on buying any more laminate tile than I absolutely need and do not want to waste any more than necessary. So what is the answer? The answer is a self made saw guide. This is simply and piece of wood, say six inches wide with another small piece of wood, say one inch wide, screwed onto it. You then run the circular saw against the small piece of wood as a guide, rip cutting some of the bottom wider piece of wood. What you are left with is a saw guide made just for the circular saw you are using. After that first cut, every time you run the saw along that narrower piece of wood, you will not cut any of the bottom wider piece of wood. In fact, the saw blade will run flush to that bottom piece. This means that you can line up your desired cutting line to the edge of the bottom wider piece of wood and know that you will cut on the line every time. It probably does not make any sense the way I have described it, so I will post pictures later. It took me looking at several pictures before it clicked in my mind.

Once you have made the saw guide, which I did, you just need safety glasses, some clamps, and a table. I borrowed clamps and used an old Target coffee table that had nice overhanging edges I could clamp onto. I do wish I had a taller table, since it is only twenty inches high, so it is a little hard on my back.

Next: Using the circular saw.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why We Need the iPad and Why We Really Don't

I recently wrote about the iPad and carefully stepped around some of the issues about which most people criticized the iPad, and for good reason. I was never against the iPad. It simply did not fit into my life the same way the MacBook Air did not fit into my life. But now I am reading all these stories about naysayers who have turned around to praise the iPad and written I-was-wrong articles and how the iPad is now the greatest thing since sliced bread. (Side note--sliced bread is not that impressive. You just need a sharp knife and a cutting board.) What bothers me about these reversal of opinion stories is that exaggerates the myopia of the world of technology and perpetuates the misunderstood economics of this country.

Let's look at the iPad. Before April was over Apple had already sold over a million iPads, and is expected to sell close to 4.5 million this year alone. We will not worry about international sales at this point as we will be discussing domestic economics. Now clearly, the iPad is a milestone in computing. Netbooks made a splash when they first came onto the market, but their fanfare was already dimmed by advancements in smartphones. So when the iPad debuted, it was met with criticisms likening it to a netbook or a glorified iTouch. I have discussed those points before, since to the average person it really appears to be a netbook in another form, or just another gaming device.

But it clearly is more than those things. The iPhone became so hugely popular not necessary because it had a growing App Store to feed its users countless programs and games, but because it revolutionized the way smartphones are used. The user interface was revolutionary and simplified and made practical to use of a handheld computer. The iPad simply brought that closer to the "computer" end of the spectrum. With the exception of phone calls, everything you can do on the iPhone you can do on the iPad bigger and better, with the addition of many new programs. The iPad is the manifestation of how far technology has come on the public scale. So it is not difficult to see why we need the iPad. It does just about everything you need it to do, with few exceptions (which will likely be remedied in one way or another in the near future).

But you do not really need the iPad. The iPad is tantamount to a space age pen. A space pen is shiny, cool, and writes in zero gravity, but costs a pretty penny. Do you really need a space pen when you could just use a $0.25 pencil or pen? For all its merits and advantages, the iPad is a nonessential item at this point. Perhaps over time it will work its way into society's daily workings and become essential to daily life, much as the computer and smartphone have done. (If you dispute the necessity of computers in today's world, you are a hypocrite by reading this blog.) That, however, will likely not happen for five years or so.

Current retail price of the iPad is $499-$829 depending on memory and data connectivity. If I really had an extra $700 laying around the house waiting to to burned, I would probably not spend it on an iPad. For that money, i could put laminate flooring in most of my basement. I could get a babysitter and go to dinner with my wife five times. I could take my family to the amusement park twice. I could put it towards the principal of my mortgage. Or school loans. Or car loan. I could buy stocks or mutual funds for my Roth IRA. Or my children's 529.

You may think this is an extreme stance on the iPad. After all, I have taken no such stance on HDTVs, and they certainly are nonessential. The thing about HDTVs are that they have begun to become integrated into society's working. Television by antennae (with a converter) is rapidly becoming extinct. And all television signal providers now offer high definition broadcasts with most if not all plans. All videos created nowadays (or least the commercial ones) are films for HDTVs. And in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a standard 4:3 size television these days, since manufacturers have ceased producing them. The iPad has yet to reach this level of pervasiveness. When it does, I will probably buy one.

Monday, June 14, 2010

DIY Laminate Part I

So it is summertime. That means it is time to start with all the pet projects that have been sitting on your to do list. For me, one of those projects was installing laminate flooring in the basement. When we first moved into our house, the basement was finished, which we had felt was a bonus. But as the years went by, two things became apparent that made the basement an undesirable place to hang out. First, it turns out that the basement was finished using cheap carpet. There was essentially no padding and was impossible to clean. Second, we set up the cats’ litter boxes in the basement. So over time litter got everywhere and was impossible to vacuum up because the carpet just hung on to it.

So we decided to rip out the carpet and put in laminate flooring. After all, this was the basement. Real hardwood was overkill. And having the flooring installed by a third party essentially doubled the overall cost. What follows is my account of the process. This is part one.

The first thing we had to do was clear the basement. This was just plain tedious. Because the basement had become unappealing, it had become a very large storage space. So the first step was the purge or move everything in the basement. We moved a lot of things towards the back of the basement and into the crawl space. The rest was carried out to the curb for the trashmen. One of these pieces was a weight machine that was in the basement when we moved in. Needless to say I had to unscrew multiple rusted screws. There are still free disc weights that sit next to the furnace. There was also an armoire that weighs about 400 lbs. Without the television inside it. It was not easy to move, until I got the moving discs that used to be advertised on the television.

Now that the floors were cleared for most of the basement, we began to tear up the carpet. It was glued down in a few places, but otherwise it was easy to remove, since it was held only by tack strips along the walls. Then the underlayment just needed to be rolled up since nothing was holding that down. Now this was the basement, but once we peeled up the carpet and underlayment we noticed that there was no moisture barrier layer. Our first indication that whoever finished the basement did not do it correctly. Once the carpet is gone, I tool a pry bar and pried up the tack strips, which were nailed into the cement. Prying up the tack strips does not take out the nails that nailed down the strips. Fortunately, I had an old plastic litter container in which to put the broken pieces of tack strips. (Fresh Step no longer used plastic containers for their litter—it is all eco-friendly cardboard boxing now)

One the tack strips are gone, you are left with all the nails that held down the strips. How you even nail something into cement boggles me, since removing the nails chips the cement. At first I simply used the pry bar and leaned on it more progressively more force until there was a pop and the nail came out of the cement. The problem with this method is that nail flies out of the cement and you are left with a rather large divot in the cement floor. I used this method for three walls before stopping for the sake of my face. After some research on the internet, I found a method of hitting the nails side to side with a hammer to loosen them and then prying them out with ease. There was less flying debris this way. Unfortunately, this technique still left small divots where the nails once resided, but with no major alteration to the grade of the floor.

Next week: Planning the installation.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Commuter Kids

This is going to be one of those posts. One of those posts that start with an, “In my day…” and then ramble on about how things have changed for the worse. So here it is. In my day, school did not give kids back problems. What, you say? You do not see about what I am getting? Did you try imaging it with the most crotchety voice you could imagine? Still nothing? Well, I guess I will have to spell it out for you.

I have noticed that kids these days seem to be carrying so much more to school. I remember schlepping a backpack full of books and folders or a Trapper Keeper to school, but it was not that heavy and not much of a burden. But I see the children in the neighborhood walking to school in the morning, and they are wheeling their backpacks to school. That is correct. Wheeling their backpacks. Like a carry-on suitcase. And the bags are full.

This made me wonder. Why in the world do children need to carry this much stuff to school? And the answer seemed intuitive. Several decades ago kids did not need to carry thirty pound schoolbags to school. There was no need. You had your own desk at school or a locker, and you put your stuff in your desk or locker. That way you just brought home your homework. And if you were in grade school, it was not a lot of homework, and it certainly was not a lot of books and paper. So what are these kids bringing back and forth to school? Certainly not textbooks. How many textbooks does a third grader have and how much homework is he getting that he needs to bring home all his books every day?

I think that most of what is in these grade schoolers’ bags are school supplies. All the stuff that they need for school projects is being ferried back and forth each day. The thing is that there has not been a great revolution in school supplies. Everything is pretty much the same. Markers, colored pencils, paints, scissors, erasers, paper, you name it, it is pretty much the same. But when I was a kid we kept all that stuff at school in our desks. I do not think this is the case these days. I do not think very many kids at all leave their supplies at school. I do not know if it is because kids have more homework that require these supplies at home. Or if theft is more of an issue these days that few people leave anything in their desks at school. But whatever the reason, kids are carrying more to and from school.

This has created an epidemic of back trouble in kids. So much so that there are now backpacks with retractable handles and wheels made for kids. I cannot tell if some of these kids are going to school or a conference in Denver for two days. If I was a latch key kid, these are the commuter kids.