Archive for the ‘Neighborhood’ Category

So we have a kitchen light that has been problematic, with bulbs burning out rather frequently. This is a three-part story.


I switched to incandescent fluorescent bulbs in most of the light fixtures in the house a few months ago. One of the advantages of these bulbs is that they generate more lumens per watt than standard incandescent bulbs. So a 40 watt bulb, for example, might put out 75 or more watts worth of light. This allowed me to put brighter bulbs in the kitchen fixtures, which are rated for 60 watt bulbs. [To be blunt, two 60-watt bulbs inside a frosted glass light fixture are not remotely sufficient to illuminate our kitchen.]

But these somewhat expensive bulbs kept burning out. With some friendly advice at the local Grover’s supply store, which specializes in electrical and plumbing, I was finally able to determine that when you have a light fixture with a metal base and the sockets for the bulbs are positioned pretty close to that base, the heat from the ballast in the incandescent fluorescent bulbs doesn’t have enough room to radiate. See, that type of bulb generates less heat, but the heat is concentrated at the base, which is close to that metal. The burn marks on the ballasts of the broken lights seemed to confirm this theory.

So, these energy-efficient lights just don’t work well in this type of fixture.


I switched to 60 watt bulbs that I had in the garage. Four burned out in a week, and there was some flickering. Not good. So we called in an electrician. He looked at the wiring for the fixture and one of the wires was pretty heavily wrapped in electrical tape. Possibly a sign that the wire was broken and taped back together, or that it had a short of some sort.

But then he went and unscrewed one of my wall outlets to show me that even though it had a three-prong socket, it wasn’t grounded. Now, our house was built in 1948, and it is very common for older houses to have ungrounded outlets. Technically, these should be two-prong outlets instead of three-prong outlets, because that third prong goes to the ground, and there isn’t a ground, so it’s deceptive and useless.

So the electrician wants to replace all my outlets in addition to replacing the light fixtures in the kitchen. He also goes down and checks my breaker box and wants to replace that as well. The bill for all this? About $5,000.

So I did some checking.

Not having a ground increases the risk of electrical surges damaging equipment and of getting an electric shock, which is why we have ground fault interrupter circuit (GFIC) outlets in our bathrooms, where there’s more risk of water hitting the outlet.

But according to my father and a neighbor who is a licensed and well-regarded home inspector, as long as the wires are properly insulated and the outlets themselves aren’t faulty, the wiring doesn’t represent a significant fire hazard. Which contradicts the story the electrician was giving me about how the house was not really safe (we’ve lived here 10 years, for the record).

Moreover, the only way to properly ground these outlets is to run additional wires throughout the house. The electrician wasn’t clear as to just how much wiring he was actually going to replace, but he said the job would take about four days. The way the wiring runs through our house, I’m really not sure how you could run ground wires for all the outlets without knocking out some drywall.

In any case, rewiring the entire house is not an immediate agenda item, nor was it really necessary to fix one light fixture. Also, though the bulbs burned out, the circuit breakers never tripped, which is one likely result of a short circuit.


Today I went to Grover’s and bought a new lightbulb socket, some new GE bulbs, a wall outlet, and an outlet circuit tester, the kind you plug directly into the outlet. I removed the old socket, wired in the wall outlet to the light fixture, then plugged in the tester to determine if the circuit was good. Other than not being grounded, which I knew, it tested fine.

Then I removed some of the old, worn end of the existing wiring, crimped it, put in the new light socket and a new bulb, and left the light on for several hours. No flickering yet. We’ll see if the light bulb holds out for a few days. But I suspect that having a socket without any corrosion, new bulbs instead of ones that were sitting in my garage for who knows how long, and some cleaned up connections may help with the problem.

At least I feel like I did something proactive. And if it doesn’t work, I’ve got the name of another electrician recommended by the some parents from my son’s classroom, who will hopefully be happy just doing the basic job needed to make the light work.

And on the plus side, my dad said that he wanted to help me install new light fixtures in the kitchen AND the basement when my folks come to visit this year. I think I might actually be up for that.


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So this afternoon’s walk was slow and very deliberate; I joined my wife and kids walking in a picket line in front of the Idaho state capitol, supporting private and public sector unions in protest of the measures being pushed through by the state legislature. In a nutshell, the Republican legislature wants to bust up the public sector unions, end collective bargaining, cut benefits, and kill off pensions. There were teachers and firefighters at the rally along with representatives of private sector unions like the plumber’s local.

I recognize that the state is suffering economically. I also recognize that while there has been an uptick for Idaho businesses in the last quarter, Idaho’s per capita average wages rose by 1%, “good” for 49th in the nation. In recent years a lot of tax breaks were thrown at Idaho corporations that have since decided to abandon the state for greener pastures or simply fallen on hard times.

It does no good for corporations to thrive while people suffer in the form of unemployment, underemployment, wage stagnation, and slashed benefits. There is no such thing as a “jobless recovery” outside of some economist’s number crunching.

It’s pretty basic. In order to have consumers you need to have workers. This nation has been substituting easy credit for wage growth for the past couple decades. People borrowed to buy what they couldn’t afford and an entire financial industry was primed to promote this behavior. At the same time, the richest Americans are getting dramatically richer while the middle class shrinks and poverty grows.

What is the purpose of industry and consumption if it does not lead to a good quality of life for the citizens who do the working and consuming? A two million dollar annual bonus going to a CEO does much less to stimulate and stabilize the economy than 1,000 workers getting $2,000 or better yet, 50 people making $40,000 a year.

The very rich just invest their money in more financial market schemes (while paying tax lawyers to get them out paying more); spread that money out among many people and you’ll see a much more diverse set of spending and saving options that strengthen communities. The economy is like an ecology, and right now it’s becoming more and more of a monoculture, with wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few who don’t even know how to spend it. It’s more feudalism than democracy.

Note that I’m not talking about socialism here. I’m not saying that the state should run everything. But you have to be really naive to think that corporations and private markets will act for the public good over the long haul, because we’ve seen ample evidence of how ridiculously short-sighted and greedy those institutions are.

I’m saying that corporations choosing to funnel a staggeringly disproportionate amount of their earnings into the pockets of a tiny number of managers while screwing over their rank-and-file employees by eliminating jobs, cutting benefits, and freezing wages is a grotesque mockery of capitalism.

I’m saying that individuals have a right to unite and bargain for better working conditions, wages, and benefits. I used to study labor history, among other things, in graduate school. Take a look at the circumstances that workers had to endure before unions fought for rights that we now take for granted. Those rights were not benevolently handed out by the corporate sector.

I’m saying that any state legislature worth a damn has a greater moral and political obligation to protect the interests of its own citizenry than it does to guard the interests of  “virtual individuals” that corporations have become in a convenient legal fiction that attempts to grant them the rights of people without any of the responsibilities.

Instead of worrying so much about whether banks and corporations are “too big to fail”, why not give some thought to the idea that the average American is too small to swim against this current of corporate greed without some help? How the hell did we end up in a debate where the people who safeguard our homes, uphold our laws, and teach our kids are somehow responsible for screwing up our economy due to their supposed greed and laziness? Three guesses as to who wrote that script and bought and paid for it to be aired in the media and in the chambers of our state and national legislatures.

So my walk was slower and a bit shorter than normal, but it was for a good cause.

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Day Eleven Walking

Had my last walk in the very posh Harrison Boulevard neighborhood in the early evening because my son’s piano teacher is moving . . . closer to our house, actually, which is nice. But I will miss the visits to this part of town and the chance to walk around the neighborhood during my son’s lesson.

Then the whole family went to this excellent old-fashioned ice cream parlor/candy store called Goody’s, where the kids got free fudge brownie sundaes for their straight-A report cards, Lisa had a sundae, and I had a delicious marionberry sorbet made with fresh pureed berries. Yum! I was tempted to swing by Boise Fry Company for the delicious locally sourced fries made half a dozen ways from half a dozen or more varieties of potatoes, but I opted to go for sweets with the family. Started raining after we got home.

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Went for a 35 minute walk this morning down the hill and around Borah Park, the open fields, and the irrigation canal. There’s a new community garden being built. The ground is cleared and a lot of robins were picking through the upturned soil looking for seeds and worms. The area beside the garden, or at a sizable chunk of it, is slated to be incorporated into another city park. I eschewed the sidewalk and the beaten paths and cut across a big undeveloped chunk of land, walking through mud, brush, and the puddles formed by the overgrown tracks left behind by the treads of construction equipment. Surprised a dog who was nosing around in the area as his people were on the sidewalk.

Kids at Bishop Kelly were out practicing soccer and lacrosse. I listened to music for the first part of this walk, but then my left ear started hurting, so I pulled off the headphones and listened to the birds and the dogs barking in the yards along the canal. When the canal is filled again there will be ducks floating by. Next time I take this walk I may wear gloves and bring a trash bag so I can pick up some of the litter. I wonder where you get those trash poking sticks?

My back was feeling sore before I set out, but a few tweaks to my stride and a little adjustment with my posture, hips and pelvic region seemed to help it out a bit. It’s pretty clear that sitting for long periods, which is part of my job, is just hard on me. On the other hand, back soreness can create the illusion that inactivity is preferable to activity. I’ve often found that moderate activity helps a bit, and doesn’t make the pain any worse.

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