Shaving Yaks or Stripping Doors

Well it’s been a while, and in that way I thought I’d talk about a little project I’ve been doing in the meantime. It’s interesting simply as an exercise for how a project unravels, especially if it is a learning exercise.

So what’s the problem

Ok, I have a bathroom with a door. No big surprises there. The door is a fire-door, this means it’s a fairly dense door with fire-retardant material and a chain linked to a (very) strong spring connected to the frame to pull the door shut. Parents hate these doors, as children will trap their fingers in the door at least once 😦

Now, the problem, both the door and the frame have been painted and repainted over a period of 4 years but not sealed properly, so wood stains and rust from nails in the frame are discolouring the paint, and the damp from the bathroom causes the wood to expand during the winter as it doesn’t dry out properly. To add to this the door handles have corroded and are starting to turn green rather from the original brass. Goal: as part of an overall renovation, repaint the door and replace the handles and hook in order to improve the bathroom.


Many possible solutions, I picked this one: Strip the door and frame using Chemical Paint Stripper, then seal and paint the door and frame and replace the metalwork with new handles and a hook.

Simple, eh ?

Ok… here we go:

How long ?

Should take a couple of days. Paint the stripper on, then strip the paint with a stripping knife and then repaint the door. Fine. Take the door off since it’s going to be easier to carry it downstairs to the garage, where it will be easier and less messy to do this.

First problem. Door is heavy. Very heavy. It’s a fire door! It’s not something I can carry downstairs and then 200m to a garage. Gah. Ok, get hold of a large canvas sheet with polythene backing and put the door on that. Paint the chemical stripper on. Turns out that one pot covers about 2/3 of one side of a door. Aaargh. Oh, and you need to leave the stripper for 6 hours. The fumes will also make you loopy.


Carry on regardless

Ok, next day… get more chemical stripper, lots more. Oh boy, not cheap. Go over the rest of the door… whilst attempting to prop up the door. Paint the door frame and architrave with the stripper. Leave for 6 hours. Start attempting to take off the paint. Where it works it’s taking off the paint as a skin or powder, but it is patchy, and it hasn’t worked equally well, also the paint that it was trying to remove was not even… many, many hours are spent stripping the door and the frame. The fumes mean taking a lot of breaks.

After this… apply more stripper to take off the patches left… more fumes. At this point in September there appears to be no wind, so leaving the windows open doesn’t generate any draft to suck the fumes out. Things start to go woozy…

The Door

The door turns out to be a couple of layers of wood grain effect veneer on cardboard, with dense chipboard in the middle. I find this out by noticing that the stripping knife takes the grain veneer away leaving the “fluffy” cardboard. I begin to wonder why I didn’t buy a new door… then I remember on the occasion I looked at it and noticed it seemed smaller then the other doors in the flat I measured it on a whim and it was in fact 2/3s the width of the other doors. So it was smaller then expected… need to keep it. At this point it is no longer the weekend and various social engagements and the need to go to work get in the way. Together with my wife coming back home, and visitors coming, the door has to go back on the frame. It still has to be propped open which is inconvenient when visitors are around.

It is as I’m putting the door back on that I realise how strong the spring on the chain is. Top tip, when taking a fire door off it’s hinges, first take a nail or a screw and push it through one of the links in the chain nearest the door when the door is fully open, this saves trying to pull the chain back out and crushing your fingers when you fail. Count me as lucky here.

The Frame

The frame takes a long time to strip. Architrave is not a nice thing to try and take paint off. Eventually it all mainly comes  off. After a while the effort versus the gain weighs in favour of stopping. In hindsight, I should invest in a Detail Sander, which I would have used to get rid of the last few bits of paint. At this point two coats of primer/undercoat are being applied. 2 hours between each coat. More time… also the tin that covers 10m2 is beginning to look empty. Get new tin.

The Final Straight!

Ok, door is on frame, check, painted with 1 coat undercoat/primer, check, sanded down to remove most of the issues with the “fluffy” material exposed, 2nd coat undercoat/primer, check, new tin not needed, check, wood filler to correct holes created when new “privacy lock” was installed, check. Door closes…


Gah. Right, sand door. No. Hang on. Take spirit level. Check door. Door is – believe it – or not straight. Hmm. Check frame. Frame has a bulge. In multiple places, in fact the frame is pretty trapezoid… ok one more trip to hardware store for sander (and to return undercoat/primer). At the store we opt for a cheap planer instead. 10 minutes work later, and the door frame is fixed. So fixed, the door should never stick again. Re-paint.

Back to The Door

In the meantime I’ve added a hook to the back of the door replacing the old plastic hook – taken off long ago now –by creating pilot holes with a nail. Sue me, I’m not buying a drill with a 2/32” drill bit just for that. Hook is fine.

New door handles, same model as the old one… except the holes and dimensions have in fact changed without notice. NEW holes for handles. GRRRRRRRRRRR! In the process the bar (which had to be shortened as it is sold oversize !?!?!)  for the lock part of the catch is bent, so turning the lock is now very stiff. 😦

I still have a couple of parts to paint even now…

So what have I learnt

Projects can grow legs, without experience you can never plan enough up front, a 2 day job took me 7 days. Next time… well I would use a different approach, probably not involving stripping the door which from a cost and time perspective probably wasn’t worth it except for the odd dimensions in this case. The power tools would have meant a much better finish. All in all the end result is not bad, it’s not great, but it’s a lot better then the starting point.

Stuff to apply to projects in general:

  • Measure more – checking the frame and door upfront would have told me to need to plane the frame, checking the handles would have meant better preparation of the various pilot holes and filling of old holes.
  • Leave more time if you haven’t done it before – being over optimistic, nice idea, but you won’t be popular.
  • Cost/benefit – getting new tools and material recovery – is it really worth it ?

Oh, and while you’re here, I’m not endorsing any products here, just stating what I used 🙂


The Funny Character Taskforce Rides again!

Amusingly I got a link to Joel Spolsky’s post on Unicode by one of my Italian colleagues. The punch line being that even though we both work for a European company (owned by a US company) we can’t seem to be able to put the accent on the last ‘o’ of his surname – which should be ‘ó’ – in the User Directory of the mail system.

It also made me remember that I’d had this post in my reading list for a long time. In essence the point being made is that complying to Unicode standards does not mean an implicit use of UTF-\d{1,2} although for some reason which escapes me, this is exactly what .Net and Java do by having UCS style chars which are 2 bytes wide (or wchar). Great. Why ?!

Anyway, the point, Unicode – support it, you aren’t an island, no matter what Ted says, even if you never release your code to a non-english speaking country use a platform that supports it so on the chance you do, you’re ready. Given the number of places that need this (Hint: it’s the majority!) it’s going to make sense at a programming language level and on your product. If you’re using XML and ASCII the chances are you’re converting from ASCII to UTF-8/16 to process the XML even if you’ve specified ISO-8859-1 (Latin 1). If an encoding to support Unicode is there, use it.

For those in Europe and pretty much anywhere else in the world, it’s a must. In the US, I guess you can afford to annoy Spanish speaking people, hey ?

Technology does not make the user smarter

So GPS now means you can find anything, anywhere… but it does seem that trying to create a shortcut around having to look at maps and learn some basic geography doesn’t really work, as this couple trying to find Capri found:

"Capri is an island. They did not even wonder why they didn’t cross any bridge or take any boat," said a bemused tourism official in Carpi.

Do me a favour, when you need to get somewhere, learn the area, you found your way around before GPS, you can still do it, and someday that will come in handy.

Who is watching you twitter ?

The City have managed to do something that the rest of the Web have yet to figure out, which is get someone to point out why participating in social media isn’t really… um… social.

"Teenagers do not use Twitter," he wrote. "Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they realise that they are not going to update it (mostly because texting Twitter uses up credit, and they would rather text friends with that credit). They realise that no one is viewing their profile, so their tweets are pointless."

The full article is here: Twitter is not for teens, Morgan Stanley told by 15-year-old expert | Business |

It also begs the question, what are these people going to be like as customers when they become the next set of wage-earners ? I’m glad I don’t work on a newspaper… but then I’m also worried about the “summarise” aspect. Will any kind of intellectual investment in the world around you become a thing of the past ?

KILL the Network Manager

Gaargh! Upgraded Ubuntu and simply upgraded my existing problem. For some reason which I cannot fathom, my desktop with it’s nice wired connection is not permitted to connect automatically. With the wonderful new GUI based tools I can’t simply tweak the boot scripts to fix it.

This is definitely more painful then needed, but this works (with thanks to the people over at the Ubuntu forum):

1) Setup /etc/network/interfaces to have an appropriate entry for the         
interface you use such as:

   1: auto eth0

   2: iface eth0 inet dhcp 

You may also wonder why that entry is not already there… I know I did!

2) Purge the Network manager:

   1: sudo aptitude purge network-manager network-manager-gnome 

3) KILL the remaining Network Manager processes (if you don’t; any DHCP sessions you try and create will not bind)

   1: root      5749     1  0 11:59 ?        00:00:00 /usr/sbin/nm-system-settings   

   2: --config /etc/NetworkManager/nm-system-settings.conf

   3: xxxxx     6328  6086  0 11:59 ?        00:00:01 nm-applet --sm-disable 

4) Restart the networking:

   1: sudo /etc/init.d/network restart

The Pros of this approach ? There is now hopefully only one thing managing your network and it will no longer do it by creating merged config files in /run to do it. The Cons ? You lose your nice status icon. You may get over that.

Do you have this document ?

It started as a question this morning as I made the usual coffee. The question being, why should I write documents instead of webpages or wiki articles ?

Over the course of a large number of projects, I’ve always had a Wiki around to document things in. I have to say I really like wikis although they do take up a lot more time then you would think.

When I’ve needed to actually distribute information, it’s always in a document. Be it .doc(x) or PDF.

The reasoning is pretty simple: ultimately a document is a solid tangible artefact that can be printed, signed, and filed. You don’t ask for your employment contract as a wiki article and when you buy a house you don’t sign into Google Docs to get the deeds!

So when are online tools good ? The cons for online articles are many:

  • Wiki articles are constantly in flux and need an editor to keep them sane
  • Pages move/get archived, become out of date
  • Blogs are great as journals but no good for documents…
  • Websites for wikis are often internal
  • Easily edited documents aren’t always the best basis for agreement between disparate parties.

There is a possible future where all our documents are webpages constructed on the fly from some huge database, but for now, I think I prefer the old-fashioned document.

In a project I like doing the following:

  • Day to day information (where is x, why do y etc), development, discourse, commenting etc – Wiki. This means you can keep it up to date (do you ?!)
  • Blogs – team blogs – in place of reports ? maybe, but remember that people talk to each other so their use is limited if the audience is internal
  • Design decisions/Contracts/Pitches/Version Controlled lifecycle documents – Document formats. While Wikis and so forth provide workflow and versioning, there is nothing quite as close or transparent to your organisation as having a document with a date and version on it. Everyone can see it, and everyone can reference (cite) it.

Now, there is one problem that electronic documents have that wikis do not. Where to store and search them… that is something I’m still trying to figure out. Maybe we can take some ideas from our older colleagues here, since paper file based systems seem to have had this figured out over time.

Chrome OS: VNC for Dummies ?

It had to happen, Google is releasing an OS. Their target is netbooks, small low-cost (and power) computers for those wanting something a bit bigger then a smartphone and smaller then a laptop.

Is this going to change my life ? Well probably not, much like Chrome, it will end up occupying the curiosity section at the back of the shop doomed to obscurity.

The key aspect of this OS is the idea that it will get you up and on the web in seconds, as “the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web” (Sundar Pichai, vice-president of product management, and Google’s engineering diector Linus Upson). We’ll leave the fact that an operating system has nothing whatsoever to do with the web.

Bear in mind that Google’s key plan is to get their grubby mitts on all your data, be it email, docs, video, contacts, whatever. Whatever is information, they want it. With it they can keep making money via AdSense/AdWords. If they know your hobbies then they’ll want you to know about people out there who can help you with them.

This has remarkably little to do with an OS and yet I feel deja-vu coming on. Remember IE4 anyone ? Or Windows 98 ? The Active Desktop ? The idea that we were always permanently connected to the ‘net ? Isn’t that a Sun marketing slogan ?

The idea isn’t new, so will it stick this time ?

The main thrust I can see from all this is that Google is building a better VNC, all your applications are in their house, and your netbook (with Chrome OS!) is just a gateway to them. But here is the question, on the eve of the launch of a service that has gathered millions of mobile numbers without notifying their “customers”, do you really want everything you have on the web, and then – in the hands of someone else ?

Even if that isn’t a primary concern to you, the other key challenges to Chrome are simply the technical ones, unless they are going to emulate Apple, they will have to support the myriad of devices and drivers out there. If they do manage this, they may then still have to persuade people to develop for them. I do wonder if we are about to see someone overreach themselves. In the commercial world, this isn’t going to make a dent. In the netbook market it’s still interesting to note the lack of impact of Linux, and the fact that XP was preferred simply because it was familiar and ran all the applications important to the users.

Where am I going with this ? Well here is the main problem, building a “new” desktop/netbook OS in this day and age is going to be a thankless and expensive task. You’ll need to cover: Hardware Support, and have Applications built for you. You’ll need testing, for all the devices that you do (or do not support). You need a user base, for whom you offer something that they either can’t get somewhere else, or that you do better. You can also produce yet another distribution of Linux, in an already fragmented market. Somewhere you’ll also need cash to build this platform and the willingness of people to invest in building for a new target platform. While Google ticks many of the boxes, it does strike me as more of an academic rather then a commercial exercise to do this. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.