LEGOhaus update

Hopefully this isn't a bad omen, but when I ordered the LEGO bits to build a scale model of our house, LEGO Corp included a free gift: The LEGO version of The Incredible Hulk! When I got notice last week that my LEGO shipment had been made from Mississippi, I got excited that perhaps the LEGO bits would arrive before Memorial Day weekend and that I would have something else to do besides drinking beer. I was bummed when the shipment didn't arrive and then confused when I received notice that another shipment had left Poland (this LEGO bidness is internationally complicated...). So when the angry green man arrived today from Mississippi, it suddenly all made sense.

Maybe he's angry because he's here and his house ain't?

The paperwork with this little guy noted that this was a 10 dollar value. Four pieces, ten dollars. That gives you a sense of how expensive LEGOs are, now doesn't it?


Lost in Los Angeles: Shades of Schindler

Saw a heaping serving of Schindlers whilst hooping and dooping about town. High on my list of must sees was the Buck House (1934):  

The How House (1925):

The Oliver House (1934):

Lovell Beach House (1926): Got to chat a (very) wee bit with the owner (me: What's it like living in a Schindler? she: I don't know: This is the only one I know.)

Bethlehem Baptist Church (1944):

McAlmon House (1935):

The Wilson House (1938):

Falk Apartments (1939):

Sachs Apartments (1926 and 1940):

Yates Studio (1938, 1947):

Bubesko Apartments (1938 and 1941):

The Elliot House (1930):

Skolnik House (1952):

De Keyser Duplex (1935):

Tucker House (1950):

Tischler House (1950):



Austin has this green-focused hardware store down yonder by the southern Central Market that is well worthy of a stop-in. It's called Treehouse, and it has your standard hardware fare but with a broad focus on green building and green building materials. They have solar, solar water heating, green floors, green cabinets, low VOC paints, and no flow urinals. And it's BIG! Not Home Depot or Lowe's BIGHUGEBIG, mind you, but lots bigger than you'd think something like this would be. The staff is friendly and helpful and they have the coolest gutter system out to their rainwater harvesting tank. We're both in love with that gutter...

Check 'em out: It would be good for stores like this to succeed in Austin.

hanging tree (for the T.V.)

We in Texas love (or used to love...) hanging trees. Back in the day, we loved to hang cattle rustlers (nothing lower than a cattle rustler except, perhaps, a cattle rustler from Oklahoma... [joking!]), but these days we Texans are mostly hanging our televisions. Given that we're Texan, I've been looking for guidance on what yer supposed to do (or can do...) when building a house and planning a hangin' (Get a rope! [or a flat screen mounting kit!]). Our goals are simple:
  • Hang that telly with
  • no wires showing.
  • And allow for a later, larger, telly (and new technology)
Not much out there I can find on new construction and prepping for hanging a (no wires showing) television, but a few things fall out from my hunting and gathering:
  • You can't hang telly from a wall made with steel 2x4s (No worries there for us [we have wood 2x6s]).
  • Wood blocking (bridges of wood between the 2xwhatevers) would be nice, but it's not absolutely necessary.
  • Code doesn't allow you to run your wires and plug in the wall. They need to plug into the wall. (Mixed info here. One source says the code doesn't allow any plugged wire to be run through the wall [for example, think audio cable]; however, another source suggests this only applies to electrical although a certain grade of wire would need to be used to run through the wall]).   
  • It's good to run conduit from the TV wall plug to the main unit wall plug for later technological upgrades. Makes things  easier.
  • Be sure to use a recessed box for the electrical and other connections behind the flatscreen, otherwise the screen may need to stick out farther from the wall.
With advanced framing (if, indeed, we have advanced framing: can't tell from the construction docs) our 2-bys will be 24 inches apart instead of the standard 16 inches apart. Are there kits for this? And if not, the wall may need to be framed in this area for the hanging.

There are several hawkers of recessed boxes for televisions. Here's one from cable organizer.com:

Power (check), cable (check), audio (check), video (check). Would be nice to have digital connectors that handle both audio and cable (and are digital).

This kit from the same vendor suggests that you can run cable through the wall. If you watch the video, you'll see that there is no conduit between the upper and bottom access points, a possible point of contention in your air sealing if you're counting on your drywall to be your seal.

There are also in-wall options for HDMI plugs.

With our present TV we have the AppleTV connected with HDMI, cable connected via five RCA cables, the DVD player hooked up via three RCA cables, and audio out hooked up via two RCA cables. I reckon we could go with HDMI for most of this stuff in the new place to simplify things.

The next thing to worry about is: Where does the TV go on the wall and the surround sound speakers go on the wall and ceiling? If we have to have specially-placed framing for the TV, then we need to know where it goes. That requires knowing where we're going to place the furniture. Hmm...

To get there, we drew out the floor plan for the living and dining rooms and then also drew out the various pieces of furniture we have or plan to have to scale and started arranging furniture. One challenge we have is that we are not big TV watchers. Seriously. We watched a movie this past Saturday and it was the first time we had the TV on in three months (How else do you think I have time to do all this blogging!). Nonetheless, we do enjoy the occasional movie, watch a lot of football (both of us!) during the season, and, in a sign of approaching old age, watch The Weather Channel when the weather is bad around and about the country (and drink bad coffee whilst complaining about the younger generations).

The ideal theatre experience reproduced in your home requires that everything is dedicated to and oriented about the TV. But we ain't going there. Our main focus is going to be out the window into the back yard, hence the main sofa (the three-seater) facing to the east (to your right):

Since the telly is on the northern wall, this ain't ideal for watching The Weather Channel whilst complaining about the youth. We also plan on having a love seat (the two-seater) L off the sofa. The love seat would be good for watching the television, but it's a distance away (like 15 feet away) from the screen. According to various recommendations on the interwebs, we would need a 80 inch of more television for ideal viewing. That a big ole TV! To look at that issue, we worked up a diagram of what that northern wall would look like:

This is with a 70-inch screen. The thought process here, right or wrong, is that we want to preserve a view corridor from the entryway to a piece of art on the north wall. That carves off 4.5 feet from the wall. The television is then centered on the remaining part of the wall.

The ideal height for a television screen is to have the horizontal midpoint correspond to eye level. I measured eye level for us to be about 45 inches:

(Note: I draw as well as Gropius or Gehry...). However, with a big ole screen, hanging the television at the midpoint starts placing the screen closer and closer to the floor, not leaving enough room for a center speaker and a low-slung console cabinet. So I decided that the screen would not be lower than 30 inches from the floor regardless of the midpoint (see eye symbol on the north wall diagram).

Being male, I grunted satisfactorily at the thought of an 80 inch screen (Those darn hurricanes will look life sized!), but 80 inches is too big for the part of the wall we carved off for the TV (it looked ridiculous to our eyes). However, if we had wanted to dedicate the entire wall to the TV, an 80-incher might have been fine. Priorities, priorities...

Also shown on the northern wall is the possible placement of built-in speakers, the console, and the sub-woofer (makes thunder sound realistic!). The art we plan to hang on the wall (Tara McPherson's "Sometimes I just want a hug") is shown as well, chosen because (1) it's cool and (2) it has a lot of black in it so it will serve to balance the black screen of the telly. Bonus: The height of the framed McPherson is just about the height of a 60-inch or 70-inch flatscreen. The planets are lining up!

An additional thing to worry about is (1) which flavor of surround sound and (2) where to place the speakers? There are basically two choices of surround sound: 5.1 and 7.1 (yes, there are others, but these are the common ones). If you add the numbers before and after the point (period) between them, it tells you how many  speakers you have to deal with (5.1 = 5 + 1 = 6; 7.1 = 7 + 1 = 8). The .1 refers to the subwoofer (there are .2 systems out there if you prefer symmetry). The first number is odd (rather than even) because of the center channel speaker. A 5.1 system has the aforementioned subwoofer and center channel and also has two stereo speakers for the front and two stereo speakers for the sides. The 7.1 system adds an additional pair of speakers for the rear. Given our non-ideal theatrical setup, we're going for a 5.1 system.

So where to place the side speakers? Again, they're supposed to go to the side of the "sweet spot" (the place we expect The Weather Channel viewing to occur). That would be the love seat (how sweet!). Bad news: That's quite aways away from the screen. Good news: It's closer to the coffee pot. So it looks like those speakers are going back yonder there. Haven't chosen speakers yet, but I'm thinking something that "disappears" into the wall and ceiling (maybe Polk Audio's Vanishing line...).

There you have it. Can't wait to see the weather.

Possibly useful resources (Audioholics, although they are also hawkers of audio equipment, seemed to have the more informative info for a newbie):

Dolby on surround sound
Audioholics on installing surround sound
another Audioholics article on installing surround sound
yet another one by Audioholics
and another
Audioholics on installing a flat panel TV

Lost in Los Angeles: Grafitti

Saw some fabulous graffiti and mural work while walking the streets of L.A...