Saturday, February 22, 2014

ManCave Project Comes to a Finish...

Well, mostly.  We do still need some furniture, but that could be weeks, months or more - for now, lawn chairs!

On Thursday I took the afternoon off from work so I could meet the guy from DirecTV and our new Internet provider, Internet America.  In case you hadn't seen the follow-up to my post about our crappy Internet service, based on some pretty solid recommendations from readers, I called Rock Solid Internet.  They came out on Monday and I can only say, I was extremely pleased with their service, professionalism, and the fact that a manager actually came out to the job site to check on things.

Unfortunately, once they put up the mast, they could not get enough of a signal to pass the test.  Between our house and the tower they were aiming for, there are simply too many trees.  We do live in a forest after all.  So, they pulled down the mast, siliconed the screw holes, packed up their stuff and left.  No charge, no nothing.  The guy did tell me that he was pretty sure Internet American would work since they use a different radio for their service.

On Thursday, the DirecTV guy got out here first.  The issue is, the ManCave is a separate building from the house, so it wasn't just a matter of adding a box to a cable drop.  You just don't know how much I obsessed over this whole thing because in my mind, I knew the answer was to bury a cable run.  But, the experts on the Internet were telling me about all this signal loss, deterioration of the lines, etc., etc. I had, for a brief moment considered letting the guy run the wires under the eaves of the house, then jumping the 3 feet between structures like they did in the old days with phone lines.  The installer looked at me and said, C'mon, man. You know you aren't going to be happy with that.
He was right and with our sand out here, I dug a 120 foot trench in about 15 or 20 minutes.  While he ran the wires to get everything set up and working, I dug the trench with the intention of going back and putting the wire inside 3/4 inch rigid pipe used for electrical runs. 

In the mean time, the Internet America guy showed up.  Super nice guy who understood my dilemma - the fact that ever since more people in the neighborhood have moved in, the DSL service has just become slower and slower.  He warned me ahead of time that if he couldn't get a good signal he'd still have to charge me a $25.00 service call fee (which I get, but RSI didn't charge me a dime), but at this point, I was willing to take the risk.  I mentioned to him that our neighbors just up the street have IA and they are very pleased, so he got in his truck and drove up to look at their installation.  I think that made him feel a little better about our chances of success.

Long story short, he mounted this little tower on our roof, above the trees near our house and was able to secure a good enough signal that I could get the 10Mbps package if I wanted it.  I passed on that, but as soon as we were up and running, I did a speed test and got 6.3Mbps download.  Netflix, here we come!
The speed test was taken just a few minutes after we got things installed and it has stayed pretty consistent.  I totally get that people (like my kids for instance) have super fast download speeds with their UVerse, but going from the equivalent of near dial-up to 6 Mbps is like Christmas morning.

For those of you doing the math, I will tell you that I think there is an overall better deal to be had with RSI.  There was no installation fee and no commitment.  That is, if you aren't happy, just turn the equipment back in and you are done.  We do have a 2 year commitment with IA, there was a $149 installation fee and if they had needed the big 50 foot mast like RSI first tried, I would have had to pay for that on top of the installation fee.  But, now that we are installed and have Internet, I'm happy to pay the price.

And I was happy to call the phone company, cancel my DSL and my phone service, since we have cell phones and the only calls we get are from telemarketers.
The DirecTV guy did his set-up and the cool thing was, he could see how I was waiting for his box to finish out my A/V shelf.  He said that the DirectTV box didn't need to be exposed.  He simply added a little RF transmitter in my closet and we can use the remote without even pointing it at the box.  I have some serious touch-ups to do on the trim and also on the shelves.
What we ended up doing was adding a shelf on the top which we'll probably just put something on display in there. On the bottom, I made a place for "guest" systems.  The kids like to bring out their PS3 or XBox, and on the bottom there is a port on the side where wires can go through to the closet.  This weekend I'll clean the whole thing up, maybe adding some smaller trim along the inside edges.  What I would really like to do is find someone who can cut Plexiglas, then do the front faceplate in that instead of the 1/4 oak I used.  I think it would look a lot better.
Eva used one of her Pinterest ideas to make a little wine glass holder out of an old rake we had laying around. Que cute.
And we finished up the license plate back splash adding a plate from Michigan where Tyler comes from.  I am contemplating adding a trim piece along the top between the two shadow boxes on either end.  We'll see.  I realize these pictures are super dark, but you get the idea.

Anyway, for the most part, I think we can call this project done and start looking forward to the next big thing.  Eva did a lot of yard work Friday afternoon and I even pulled out the mower to clean-up the front yard.  It was starting to look a little scraggly out there.  Perhaps we'll do some sod next.  I'll let you know.

Monday, February 17, 2014

My Daily Deer and Other Wild Animals...

First, a quick update on the Internet situation.  We had the Rock Solid Internet folks come out this morning to set up our new Internet access.  Total professionals and they seem like a great company to work with.  One problem:  We couldn't get enough signal through the trees to make it work, and hence, they had to cancel the job.  Of course we were disappointed, but I genuinely appreciated their honesty in halting the job knowing that we wouldn't be happy.  Total cost to me: $0.00.

I asked the guy to tell me who I should call next and he did say that he was sure Internet America would work.  He said they use a different set-up and antenna, therefore, the trees were not as much an issue.  I've called Internet America and they will come out on Thursday.  Fingers crossed.
I did catch one little guy in the act of jumping over the fence.  It really looks like a blur, but I promise, it's a deer.
And I know you want to know the answer to, What does the fox say?  I would tell you if my camera recorded sound, but we only get pictures.
And an appearance by Mr. Raccoon.  It has been a while since we've seen him wander around. 


Sunday, February 16, 2014

ManCave Update: Decorations!

We had a wonderful weekend with the kids, knocking out a lot of the odds and ends that needed to be taken care of as we come to the conclusion of the ManCave project.  Before we started work, Friday we did our annual Valentines day ritual of visiting the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, though we just walked the grounds, ate some carnival food and generally enjoyed the good time. 
 Eva and Roxanne tried to be friends with a little cow and her mother.  Thanks to my friend from work, Bryn, we actually went into areas of the grounds that we had never thought to venture into.  In fact, the kids who raise these animals are just as friendly as can be.  We seriously stepped in more cow shit than a civilian ought to be exposed to and in the end, my truck suddenly feels (and smells) a lot more Texan than it had in the past.
The kids all spent the night with us Saturday evening and we took in a really good movie that I am not authorized to give the title of, because as I understand it, we may not have been authorized to view it yet.  Oh, and we watched Machete which I thought was great, so I think my son and I will be watching Machete Kills next.
Before watching movies, we spent the day working on several projects that included building some shelves to fill the hole in the closet wall, installing the closet door and lots and lots of baseboard.
On Sunday, we focused on installing the bar that goes along the wall near the dart board.  Oh yes, the dart board.
The little shelf next to the closet door has an interesting design.  We have been saving beer caps ever since we moved out here, honestly because I wanted to recreate the look of La Tuna where they simply toss beer caps on the ground and they become an interesting walkway.  Eva is opposed to that idea completely, so since we have the caps, why not use them?  Thank you Pinterest!
Once the caps were all glued in, we put in a bunch of the shot glasses I had collected over the years.
We created a thin stand-up bar along the wall near the dart board.  The boys took some of the dozens of old license plates I've saved and pressed them into service up against the wall to serve as sort of a back splash. The two boxes on either end will eventually be hung on the wall.  One has beer caps and the other has wine corks.  I don't want to give anyone a bad impression about us, but as my father said, There ain't nothing wrong with a cold beer on a hot day!
I am pretty pleased with how the bar came out.  Just a piece of 1 X 8 and some simple trim around it. And yes, lots of touch-ups to go.
This is the popcorn and wine area.  You'll note the rake used as a wine glass holder.  Eva got that from Pinterest like many of the other ideas.
We are still working on the AV shelf.  I still need to contact DirecTV to see about adding a new box out here, so I can't complete the shelf cut-outs until I know the size.  And until I cut out the face plate, we can't add the trim around it.  But, you get the idea.  The bottom shelf is like an empty box that will be a place for the kids to bring their PS3's or XBox's or whatever that stuff is.  I'm good with VHS (kidding).
 We still don't have furniture, aside from lawn chairs and the original Coffee table and end table we bought for our very first apartment on Culebra and Ingram back in 1985. I think we got our money's worth out of that!  This is the view with the garage door up.  I anticipate many evening games or movies where we prefer to sit out on the patio - as long as whether permits.

This has been a great project with lots of help from the entire family.  As Eva says, This isn't so much a ManCave as it is a Family Cave. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Daily Deer: Jump!

I know I have been slacking in posting deer pictures but honestly, if you could see my Deer Drive (a hard drive with nothing but deer pictures) you'd see how many of them look pretty much the same.  These days, the only thing that catches my eye is a nice daytime picture or fancy tricks.
I love it when we catch a deer in the act of jumping over the fence.  Of course, if you drive through the neighborhood any day of the week, you'll see how effortlessly these guys can do it.  You also see how frustrating and scary it is for the little ones who aren't quite big enough to clear the fence.  I tend to just stop my truck and let them calm down enough to find a gate they can slip through rather than watch the little ones butt repeatedly into the fence. 
And here is a fence jumper staring into the camera with a guilty look on his face.  He is saying, It's cool for me to be here, right?
Finally,  a few daytime pictures.  These are really my favorites.  These guys are too small to jump the fence, but they'll get there.

ManCave Update: Tyler the Tiler...

Eva made color selections at Floor & Decor over on Bandera in San Antonio and I went by on my way home from work to pick up the 25 boxes of tile.  It really didn't take us long to unload them and by Friday afternoon, we were starting the project.
Son-in-law Tyler was eager to learn how to lay tile, so as I mixed thin-set and made the few cuts required, the he and Eva got started.
I know there are all sorts of specific ways of starting from the center point so that you can measure for equal outer cuts, but this is about the tenth time Eva has done tile and she prefers to start from the furthest corner, make sure the tile is set perfect square and then live with whatever cuts come at the end.  In the case of a near square room, it worked well for us.  We only had to make cuts for the closet and of course, the front edge by the garage.  There was also the debate about the use of the little cross spacers.  I've always seen them placed flat at the corners, but Eva prefers to stand them up, which in fairness, works fine for us.
The very first time we did tile we had thought about renting a tile saw, but for the cost of renting, you can buy this cheap little unit and we've had it for close to 10 years.   
Here, Tyler, ceremonially lays the last tile.  Okay, well, not much ceremony, it had to be laid before we could start the grout.
We had to take a break in tiling so I made an outline in tape so we would know where it was safe to walk.  This was just the first mopping of the floor to get all the dust off before starting the grout operation.  By the time we took this picture, we were all pretty pleased.
I have to admit, I was a little iffy about the tile and grout color choice but once we started putting it down, it was all very nice.  Certainly there are a few imperfections caused by a minor blip when we gave up for the night a little too late on Friday night, but overall, we're pretty darn happy with how this came out.
I was really worried about the final piece in front of the garage door. If you recall, we left the garage door in place so we would have the ability to open it up if we want to sit outside on the patio and watch an evening movie.  Anyway, I ended up buying a small strip of bull nose to cap it off at the end.  That tile isn't jacked up, the grout hasn't been fully wiped yet. Anyway, if I had thought about it when we started, I would have capped it under the full piece of tile (remember that thing about measuring out from the center?) but in truth, this was just an afterthought.
All in all, we are very pleased with how the job came out, and now, we have to due the final touch-up painting, put in the baseboards and of course, finish all the closet shelving and such.  Oh, and buy some chairs.  That will have to wait.  Eva says the checkbook is closed!

A few notes:  One reader commented about the echo that will surely be caused by the tile floor.  I'm hear to tell you, right now it sounds like the Grand Canyon.  But we already have one rug going down, Eva has an ass-load of things to put on the walls and my son found one of those do-it-yourself web pages for making acoustic treatments.  We'll see how much of that we need once we get the furniture in.
 And - we had to feed our workers.  La Pasidita in Natalia was our pre-tile breakfast.  This pork chop plate was only $3.99.  How much would they charge for that at Denny's?
This was the kid's plate.  Yes, my daughter is in her twenties but she is still my kid, right?  Let's hope the people at Disney don't see this.