Friday, March 14, 2014

My fault

An earthquake, even a little one like the one that woke me up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago, gives me a feeling of sheer terror and helplessness. If the Big One ever hits, I wonder not just what will be the practical repercussions for me but also if I'll react sensibly or just sit there frozen to the bed with my eyes wide and the adrenaline pumping while my house crumples around me and the San Andreas swallows me up.

In all actuality, this is unlikely to happen.  I mean, it's very likely that I will remain frozen in bed, but the likelihood of one's house crumpling down is far less than one's household possessions becoming flying projectiles.  Flying projectiles are a more likely source of injury in an earthquake than structural damage.  I've been researching this subject since I now live on top of the San Andreas fault.  Actually, if you're in bed when an earthquake hits, the safest thing for you to do is to stay there and put a pillow over your head.  Maybe I'll survive after all.

The San Andreas fault cuts through California north to south. Check out this map of the approximate location of the San Andreas fault.  If you zoom in to Redlands (directly east of Los Angeles), you can see that the fault traces the base of the mountain range just north of town.  This is literally in my back yard.  The San Andreas is the big one, but there are a ton of other smaller faults all over the place around here.  Little earthquakes, mostly too small to feel, are happening all the time.  You can view an interactive map of recent earthquakes from USGS if you want to feel a bit paranoid.

There are things you can do to make your house safer in the event of a big quake.  You can install expensive structural reinforcements and bolt your house to its foundation, but it's probably more important to take care of the flying projectile problem.  Don't leave a lot of nick-knacks around, or use museum putty to stick them onto the surfaces they sit on.  Make sure top-heavy furniture is strapped to the wall.  This isn't a problem for me, as I don't really have any furniture at all. You actually can't sell a house here with a hot water heater that isn't strapped to the wall.  They're not legally allowed to write you a deed or whatever.

I decided I should secure my kitchen cabinets so that heavy dinnerware wouldn't fly out of them if the house starts shaking.  This seemed simple, but of course it wasn't.  I initially purchased a package of plastic hook latches that go on the inside of the cabinets, specifically meant for earthquake-proofing.  The hooks have to be manually flexed in order to open.  If you just pull them they get caught in a little catch.  It's basically a glorified baby-proofing latch.  However, it required quite a lot of strength to push the hooks over the catches, and it was too annoying for cabinets I open and shut regularly.  I tried it for a week and decided it wasn't going to work for me.

So, I looked around online for other earthquake-proofing products.  I saw a few products that were supposed to only lock during a quake.  One had a hook that supposedly would drop down only when shaking is occurring.  It looked dubious to me because it would be nearly impossible to test, and you wouldn't find out if it worked until it actually mattered.  Also, since the direction of shaking isn't predictable, how can you guarantee that it would shake in the right way to send the hook into place?  Another product remained locked with a plastic hook until you push the cabinet door inward, and then it releases the catch.  This also seemed dubious to me.  If the shaking were strong enough and the cabinet door heavy enough, couldn't the force of the shaking press the door inward by itself, thus releasing the catch?

Barrel bolt (from the Home Depot catalog)
I gave up on earthquake-proofing products and decided to just install sturdy latches on the cabinets.  I had this brilliant idea to put barrel bolts on them, the kind of cylindrical sliding latches you see on bathroom stall doors.  By "brilliant idea", I actually mean "very Dumb idea, and poorly executed".  I decided that I should install the latch with bolts that went all the way through the cabinet door.  The cabinets are particleboard, and I figured that wood screws would just rip out if put under sufficient strain, whereas a bolt secured by a nut on the other side wouldn't budge.  Okay, that part is still brilliant.  The next part is Dumb.  I drilled a bunch of holes through my cabinet door to secure the latch in place.  I put the latch on and then realized to my chagrin that the bolts/nuts stuck out through the back of the door and hit the cabinet frame, preventing the door from actually shutting.  Duh!  So I drilled a bunch more holes higher up on the cabinet door so the bolts wouldn't hit the frame.  I installed the latch.  I tested the latch by pulling on the cabinet door handles.  The doors swung outward, and the cylindrical barrel bolt just slid right out of its catch.  It did no good whatsoever.  Barrel bolts don't work when both sides are on movable surfaces.

I generally pride myself on my mechanical aptitude, but perhaps I should reevaluate.  Ah, whatever.  I blame it on The Dumb.

Spring-loaded hook latch catch thingy
After thoroughly investigating all my other latch options, I finally settled on some spring-loaded hook latch catch thingies (there must be an official name for these) like what you would see on the outside of a toolbox.  I drilled some more holes in my cabinet door and installed one of them.  It was perfect!  It's easy to open when you need to, but it won't open when it's locked.  My plates and bowls can fly around inside the cabinets as much as they like, but they won't be able to escape and decapitate me.  I secured the latches with bolts that go all the way through the cabinet, and I used lock washers to hold the nuts in place so they don't loosen up over time.

One of my cabinet doors has a bunch of holes in it, and my kitchen is ugly!  But it isn't my fault, I had to drill the holes to keep the cabinets shut. It's The Dumb's fault that they didn't work in the first place. But the San Andreas made me drill the holes to latch the cabinets to keep me safe in the first place...second place.  It's your fault!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dispenser of happiness

I haven't done any major work lately, just a lot of little things to improve my quality of life.  None of these things are particularly interesting.  I was going to write one interesting thing related to each one, but I got distracted reading about the history of toilet paper.  So, I'll give you the list of dull but life-improving things I've done and then write about toilet paper for a while.
  • I put up a fluorescent light over my kitchen counter.  This was super easy and makes it much easier to see when I'm cooking.
  • I put up a more convenient towel hook in the kitchen.  Yay.
  • I installed a better rack of hooks in the bathroom.  This simple project went the way of other simple projects.  I took the old rack of hooks off the door where it was hung and discovered that the door had been painted around it and that there was a hole in the door behind it.  I spackled the door and painted and put up the new hooks.
  • I finally patched the bathroom ceiling around where the new vent fan was installed.  I ended up using the same method I used for the walls, and it went fine.
  • I got a new shower head in the bathroom.  I didn't like the harsh spray from the old one, and it was so gunked up with minerals that an hours-long vinegar soak didn't help it.
  • I installed a better toilet paper dispenser. 
Old Dumb toilet paper holder
New non-Dumb toilet paper holder
My toilet paper dispenser replacement falls under the category of "Dumb reduction" in addition to "quality of life improvements".  The old toilet paper holder was one of those fancy designer toilet paper holders that's shaped like a ring and only has one connection to the wall.  The toilet paper roll slides onto the ring.  However, the single point of connection with the wall means the thing is doomed to always unscrew itself and spin on its axis.  Mine ended up kind of upside down at one point.  Also, it was just screwed into the wall plaster, which is kind of precarious for something that is pulled, bumped, and jostled so often.  I decided it had to go.  I bought an equally nice-looking non-fancy non-designer toilet paper holder of the traditional kind for about $4 and screwed it into the hardwood window frame. It's so nice to not be annoyed every time I go to use the toilet.

Toilet paper was used in China as early as 1500 years ago.  Toilet paper as a commercial good in the United States was introduced in 1857 and was sold in packets of flat sheets.  Rolls and dispensers didn't come about until later.  Unsurprisingly, Americans use more toilet paper per capita than people anywhere else in the world.  More surprisingly (to me, anyway), people in other developed countries don't use toilet paper at all.  In parts of Europe, people commonly use bidets to wash with water.  My family in Greece have bidets in their bathrooms, but I could never really figure out the mechanics and practicality of how one was supposed to use them.

Of course, throughout the ages, people have used a wide variety of things for cleaning themselves after going to the bathroom.  Things like leaves, sticks, hay, moss, seaweed, wool or fur, hemp, rags, corncobs, fruit skins,  rocks, sand, sea shells, snow, sponges.  Sears catalogs were popular for this purpose in rural America.  The Wikipedia article on anal cleansing is actually quite fascinating and well worth a read.  It's an age-old problem, and toilet paper isn't the only solution to it.

And now, I'm off to bed, after a quick trip to the potty.