Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tips for a Warm Household

Tips for a Warm Household. Sounds kind of like the title of one of those books; the kind whose authors are smiling women with perms and way too many teeth.

But it's not. This is a strictly scientific essay. It was written to inform and educate and take up space on your screen, and nothing more. Although it would be an interesting study to see what everyone's initial response or expectation was when you first read the title. You can tell me in the Comments section.

Now that us in the Northern Hemisphere have spilled winter all over ourselves, like a clumsy toddler carrying around a plate of pancake syrup, it's time to start keeping an eye on the gas bill. This is assuming that your furnace burns natural gas, of course. If it burns unnatural gas, you'll want to be keeping an eye on THAT bill.

Let's take a look at my bill. Whoa. Looks like it's been preparing for the winter in the same way the squirrels have; it's gotten fatter. It went so far as to grow an extra decimal place, even. The envelope it came in has bulked up too. It's stuffed full of colorful 3-fold brochures, offers to insure your appliances and coupons good for a dollar off 12-packs of Dr. Pepper.

You've been reading those brochures, haven't you? The ones that give you tips on how to cut down on your gas usage? Right. Like they're going to help you use less of the product you pay them for. Probably explains those extra digits.

Well, you can toss those right out. Or, on second thought, save them. You can burn them. That'll come in handy later. So now that you've cleansed yourself of Gas Company propaganda, how do you go about reducing your gas bill? Is there, in fact, a way to use less and still be comfortable?

No. Not directly. But you can increase your comfort by working with the air you already have lying around your home. So put on your sweatpants and your hard hat with the miner's headlamp and let's get to work!

Supplies Needed:
  • One (1) ballpeen hammer. You will want to make heavy use of the peen part, since nobody ever does, and you're a real go-getter, aren't you? That's right.
  • Two (1) rolls of masking tape. As its name implies, it will come in handy when you have a whole bunch of mistakes and holes to cover up.
  • Six (1) packages of black licorice. This stuff was intended for industrial use anyway.
  • A whole bunch of pillows.

Your first objective is to find out where all the cold air is coming from. Like earwigs, cold air is sneaky and likes to hang out along the edges of windows and walls and in your mailbox. Wave your hand near one of these areas. Feel that? That tickling sensation you feel on your palm is earwigs. Scream like a three-year-old and shake those creepy little bastards off. When you finish your wuss prance, you might be tempted to peen the earwigs right then and there. You might want to rethink this, as it would be needlessly violent, and you'd probably miss. Nobody respects a person with peen dents all over their floors and walls.

Trying not to think of earwigs, identify all the windows in your household. They are the rectangular, glass-covered openings cut into your walls. If you touch the glass, you will find that this leaves unsightly finger prints. Knock that shit off.

You may also find a good deal of cold air loitering around your windows. Following the directions in the gas company brochures, you've put up signs, you've yelled at it, and you've tried ignoring it to see if it would go away on its own. Of course none of it has worked, and the cold air remains floating smugly around your windows. The best way to scare it off, as our own primitive forbears discovered, is with fire. This is where those gas company brochures actually come in handy. A few strategically placed brochure fires will let the cold air know you mean business. You need only do this maybe once a month, as cold air has a pretty good memory.

Once you have the cold air on the run, you can keep it out by hammering the black licorice into all the cracks around the window frame, and along the mullions. Be prepared to replace some of the panes, as you will invariably peen some of them out onto your lawn. You may wish to have a friend handy at this point to wave a torch at the cold air while you cover the gaping holes with masking tape.

With the windows out of the way, you may now focus on the attic. As you have probably read somewhere, warm air rises. This is because it is filled with yeast, which is a totally different discussion, so stop asking about it.

What happens is that all the warm air goes to hide in the attic. Unlike cold air, which is brash and feral, warm air is quiet, reserved and agoraphobic. You might be tempted to try coaxing it out of the attic by offering it black licorice, but that would be foolish. You wouldn't offer black licorice to your worst enemy unless you were a total sadist. And if you ARE a total sadist, you probably deserve to be miserably cold, so you can go ahead and stop reading this now.

So how do you keep the warm air from holing up in your attic? With the pillows, of course. Sprinkle them liberally around your house to make it more inviting to the shy warm air, and eventually it will come down. You may also wish to play some soothing music. Some Hindemith, perhaps, with pianos in it. Warm air likes pianos.

If you find that you do not have enough warm air because, for example, you have a small attic, do not be unduly alarmed. Warm air can be found inside many electronic devices. You'll have doubtlessly noticed by now that your videogame console, laptop computer and toaster all harbor copious amounts of it. Place these devices inside plastic bags when in use, and you can capture some of the warm air as it escapes! Wait for it to calm down before releasing it, however, or it will head straight for your attic.

Congratulations! You are now a master of the molecules; an arbiter of the atmosphere. Just be sure to keep a weather (ha!) eye out for the marauding cold air, and remind your friends to keep their voices down around your warm air.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Guardian Angel is a NavStar® Satellite

Sorry about the big quiet spot! I'd like to thank my readers (I love you both!) for not deleting your bookmark out of frustration or for the sake of browser cleanliness.

I bet now you expect me to say something like "But a lot has been going on in my life!" and proceed to tell you all about it. I won't do that. Because not a lot has.

I'm going to tell you about it anyway, though.

After years of having to rely on those more directionally astute than I, and having to answer questions like "how long have you lived in this town again?" and "but we just went yesterday! How can you not remember how to get there?" I finally broke down and accepted a GPS navigation unit.

The Garmin™ people were nice enough to provide me with one of their lovely units. Because I am an Internet celebrity, all I had to do was get in touch with them through a third party, give this third party some money, and wait for a fourth party (UPS) to ship it to me. Badda boom, badda bing! When the unit arrived, I pounced on the box, sending up a mushroom cloud of packing peanuts.

"Hee hee hee!" I squealed, tearing into the packaging with giddy abandon. "No more stupid questions! Soon I will be free to daydream all I want while driving, and my little touchscreen friend here won't sass me for it!"

There it was. Nestled in a colorful box amongst the peanuts; a device that looked like an iPhone designed by Fisher Price®. I wonder if the batteries have a charge? I wondered out loud to myself, because there was nobody around to make fun of me for that either.

Turns out there was. The speaker made a little electronic honking noise, and the screen lit up. "Making initial contact with The Satellites. This could take forever if you try it inside your house. Run outside RIGHT NOW and wave the device at the sky like some kind of epileptic moron. Be sure to forget your jacket," it said. Of course, being the type of person who follows any instruction displayed on an LCD screen, I did just that.

Five minutes after the shattering crash my ass made when it froze off startled some nearby owls, I was greeted with the message that the satellites had been found. "All of them?" I wondered aloud to the remaining owl, but I didn't stay outside to find out. Most of them. Good enough. I scampered inside and stood in the middle of the living room.

After the obligatory poke through the settings menus, I loaded up the map. There I was! A little graphic of a blue sedan, sitting over the Western edge of Michigan. "This thing is so cool," I mumbled into my chest. I zoomed in. And in. Aaaaannnnd in. Hey, look! A little picture of a house. A green bar at the top of the screen spelled out my location in white text.

"Your living room, four feet from the couch," it said. These things get more and more accurate every day, I thought. I turned 30 degrees clockwise. "You look like you're headed to the bathroom," the green bar said. "There is extra toilet paper under the sink if you need it." And helpful!

Satisfied that the Garmin worked as advertised (and then some), I powered it off and went to bed. I'd drive to work with it tomorrow, to see how it handled out on the road.

When morning came, I yawned, stretched and...smelled coffee. Hmm. Dad must have come over and, um, made coffee in the wee hours of the morning. Not entirely out of the question. I stumbled out into the kitchen.

It was empty, save for the cats, who are always waiting for me in the kitchen in case I drop some bacon. But there it was! A cup of coffee, still steaming, sitting right next to my GPS on the counter.

On the...

I distinctly remember putting the Garmin back in its box and leaving it in front of the door, so I'd be sure to bring it with me. Did Dad move it? He must have. He'd have tripped over it if he didn't. I picked it up. Hmm. Would have been nice if he'd turned it off when he was done inspecting it, though.

"Good morning!" the screen said. "I made you coffee. The mug is located at..." and it gave coordinates. "Work is in an hour and a half, and exactly 13.46 miles from your coffee. Enjoy!"

Not bad for a hundred bucks! I sipped my coffee and brought up the Garmin's navigation screen. "Where would you like to go?" it said above the on-screen keyboard. I keyed in my employer's address. "It's guaranteed to be boring there. Where do you really want to go?"

I typed in "Nashville".

"Ha ha," said the Garmin. "No, seriously."

I exited the navigation screen and went back to the map. "Standing next to the dishwasher, contemplating a shower," the green bar said. Proving it wrong, I went out to the garage and got in the car. "Eeew. A Buick?" the green bar said.

It turns out that the NavStar® satellite system the Garmin uses is pretty accurate. It showed me my speed in miles per hour, what road I was on, what compass direction I was headed in, and where the nearby Chevy Cavaliers were, offering alternate routes to avoid them. Neat.

"Stop checking the screen to make sure the Garmin still knows what road you're on," the green bar said. "The Garmin can take care of itself. Fruitridge Ave, next exit."

After a journey of exactly 13.46 miles, I pulled into my parking spot at work. "There. Work. I hope you're happy," the green bar said. "We could have gone somewhere fun, like one of many local Steak'n'Shake restaurants. But noooo! You had to--"

I powered it off. Perhaps I would search the Garmin website for firmware updates. I didn't play my Internet Celebrity card just to end up in the same position I was in before. If I wanted my navigation prowess sassed, I have friends for that.