Friday, November 05, 2010

Bill Nye the Solar Guy

So a while back, Bill Nye the Science Guy stopped by work. I swear he looks exactly the same as I remember him from TV all those years ago. He's also just as goofy in real life as he is in his show.

When I got home that day, I went to the TiVo to set up a recording for 'Bill Nye the Science Guy.' I think I had watched it previously with the kids, but the concepts were a bit too much for the little guys. Unfortunately, the show wasn't currently available so I set up a wishlist to record all Bill Nye shows. It turns out that Bill Nye is on the 'Living with Ed' show. That is a show about Ed Begley, Jr and his quest to be super green with his house. Bill is Ed's neighbor who competes with Ed to be the greenest guy on the block.

It happened that our hot water heater had started to fail as all of this was happening. One of the 'Living with Ed' shows demonstrated Bill Nye's solar hot water heating system. Thinking this is kind of cool, we got some quotes to replace our hot water heater with a solar one. Along with those quotes, we got some solar electricity quotes.

A couple of years ago we had looked at getting some photovoltaic solar panels. At the time it didn't quite make sense. But, during our current investigation, we determined that adding some panels to the south-facing side of our garage roof would work out. Right now the state of California is offering a rebate on the panels and the Federal Government is offering a 30% tax credit. The rebate and credit cover about half of the panel cost. Then, the system pays for itself in 5-7 years with energy savings. Plus, adding the solar panels increases the value of our home, I believe more than the cost of installing them.

The solar hot water part wasn't nearly as cost effective, so we got a regular, but smaller than the previous one, new hot water heater. The kids loved using the box as a house.

Painting the Box House

Of course, the reason the kids were in swimsuits while painting is because we put them in the kiddie pool right after to try to get the "washable" paint off.

We had the same company, Moore Solar and Green Construction, install both the hot water heater and the solar panels. During the hot water heater installation, they were also doing the drawing for the solar panel plan. Dan was hanging out during the process since he had built the new stand for the hot water heater. Gas hot water heaters in garages need to be elevated and our stand had suffered some nasty water damage from the leaky hot water heater. Dan got to chatting about inverters and stuff and found that you can get micro-inverters, one per solar panel to better monitor individual panel output. So now we can monitor everything! Dan has taken up solar output monitoring as his new hobby.

The boys have taken up residence in their new, bigger-than-the-hot-water-heater-box house. It was the one that had solar panels in it.

Skylight Installed in this Box House

It took a while to get everything approved for the installation. In the city of Los Angeles, it takes about a half hour to get the initial plans installed. However, here in Redondo Beach, it can take up to 8 weeks. Fortunately, during the process, the mayor stopped by our house to talk about Measure G which was coming up in the November 2nd election. So I inquired as to the staffing level of the city planning office. After an email or two, we were promised expedition of our process and things finally got going for the install. However, we are currently waiting for final approval from the electric company before we can turn the system on and reap the benefits during the cloudy winter. Hey, at least we didn't do this at the beginning of the summer expecting lots of sun. As this past summer was one of the coldest on record, and one of the most dreary, maybe we are in line for a super sunny winter.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Visitors - Dad and Lee come to California

Dad and an excited Alex

We had a great visit with Dad and Lee as they came to enjoy our warm weather... wait, no, that's not it. We have actually been having quite a cold summer. You know, about 70, maybe 75 degrees during the day, a little overcast, generally pleasant. You would think that living in Southern California would be hot all the time, but it is actually just nice. Yes, all the time. While that means that we have to tell any of our guests who visit that they should bring a jacket when they travel in July, it also means that we can grill in our backyard in February. I absolutely love living here.

So, Dad and Lee visited. The kids were so excited to have their Grandpa and Grandma at their house for about a week. What did we do while they were here? Somewhat of a repeat of their trip just a few months back, we went to the Getty. But, not exactly intentionally. You see, everything we need: work, school, shopping, beach, restaurants, Starbucks, etc are within three miles of our house. So I don't drive around a lot. I don't avoid it, but I have a limited view of where I am and where Los Angeles is (it's north). So, I got on the highway going north and didn't make it to the Science Center. That's off the 110, not the 405 which I took northish. So we went to the Getty. Will has enjoyed going there since he was 2 months old, fascinated by the artwork.

2 month old Will

Now, he and Alex are more fascinated by Holes in Rocks.

It was hard to get the kids to hold still for a picture since there were so many rocks around to sit by and climb on.

Wiggly Kids on Grandpa

Soaking their busy feet

Climbing on Rocks

Everyone making sure Alex doesn't fall into the fountain

If you too want to visit us and go to locations determined by picking a random highway and driving toward 'destinations' please let us know and we find something to fascinate a 4-year-old and a 2-and-a-half-year-old. And perhaps you too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Raising Boys - Unique Challenges (and Benefits)

I'm very much in favor of experiencing the trauma of raising young boys and forgoing the hormonal mess that is dealing with 13 year old hormones of girls. And sometimes I just have to smile about it.

For you see, back during Spring Break, my boys were hanging out with some friends who have a house over in the exclusive Manhattan Village Community. It's a place that is popular with celebrities because of the fairly successful locked-down gated community with guards and such. Not terribly giant houses, but quite secure if you should do a lot of traveling but want a place close to the studios here.

So during Spring Break, quite close to Easter, my two boys ended up doing an Easter Egg hunt over at Manhattan Village. That's where they were when I went to pick them up after work. I managed to get in (walking) and found them at a wonderfully fun event with a bouncy house, magician, tasty sandwiches, and lots of chocolate in eggs. They were totally sugarfied. Given that it was getting close to dinner time, I attempted to convince them that they needed to take a walk back to our car which I had parked outside the zone of gated-ness. Oddly, they agreed, happily carrying their stash of chocolate in cutely decorated bags along the path.

At this point, Alex was still in pull-ups, so all was well there. However, the change in the routine of the week had caused Will to have a few accidents the days prior. So, as we walked along the green path, the whiny words, "I haaave to go potty" came from Will. And, since, after four years of having kids, I haven't quite learned how to translate my sarcasm into kid-friendly advice and because I was tired of Will having accidents, I said, half serious, "Why don't' you just pee standing up by this bush." Fortunately Will rejected this idea.

Well, he rejected the idea until about 20 feet further along the path when we weren't near any bushes and he had to go potty even more. The idea had sunk in that he should drop his pants and pee on the grass.

I showed that I was a good parent by resisting the urge to snap a picture with my camera phone. And we continued the evening without an accident or citations related to indecent exposure in a fancy community. :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

An Actual DAng-Adventure

That's right, we have children, but we escaped on our own adventure without them!
(Of course, when the kids get older and read this.. Kids, it's ok, we actually love you very much. Just because mommy and daddy want to take a trip every once in a while without you doesn't mean we don't enjoy spending time with you.)

Dad and Lee were in town between Christmas and New Year's. Yes, we do enjoy spending time with them too, but really, we hadn't spent time away from the kids overnight since July 2007. Oh wait, that was away from the kid, singular. It had been that long.

So Dan and I went to San Luis Obispo to stay at a gaudy hotel with a mediocre steakhouse.

The Madonna Inn is quite kitschy. But of course, since Dan and spent our honeymoon at similarly kitschy places, your stereotypical honeymoon spots of Niagara Falls, the Poconos, and oh, yeah, Fermilab, we had to try this place out. It is known for its 110 different theme rooms. There is a Caveman Room, a Victorian Room, and various other rooms. We stayed at the Hide-A-Way. It had rock walls, but that was really about it. It was no Poconos apple room.

We opted to have dinner at the on-site Madonna Inn Steakhouse. It was fully decked out in flocked Christmas Trees. The service was good, but it was kind of weird that our baked potatoes came still wrapped in the tin foil that they were cooked in.

Dan at Gaudy Steakhouse

After dinner we went to a movie. At a theater. Because that's just not something you can do with kids. We even saw the PG-13 movie, Sherlock Holmes. And since "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" was the last movie I previously viewed, it was quite enjoyable. Afterwards, we ended up back at the on-site Madonna Inn bar for desert which was also underwhelming with terrible coffee on the side.

The next day, Dan and I took a morning swim in the lovely outdoor heated pool which was part of the spa aspect of the Madonna Inn. It was steamy as they keep the pool at 80 degrees, but the outside air was quite cool. And it had a great view.

View at Madonna Inn

We skipped over to San Luis Obispo for a tasty, non-gaudy breakfast, then continued our adventure to San Francisco. We had considered going back home to manage the kids, but they were having a blast with Grandma and Grandpa at the Getty, so we kept going north. On the way, we made a pilgrimmage to TiVo World Headquarters. They were closed and didn't seem to have a gift store. I tend to have bad luck visiting the world headquarters of large technology corporations, like the time Neal and I went to Microsoft and couldn't get a tour.

Neal Wondering Where the Tour Starts

Before we left TiVo, we got this nifty picture of Dan there.

Dan at TiVo

San Francisco was neat. It was an exciting trip for Dan. We got to see a fungus store, and a very steep hill.

We also got to see Coit Tower, like on Little Einsteins. Plus, here is what Haight Ashbury looked like.

Thanks to Mike and Liz for the tour and entertainment!