Monday, September 28, 2009

Carbon, not just for pencils!

Our company is looking into Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology as an area to get involved it.

CCS can be summarized as so:
1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is produced mainly from coal-fired electricity plants, but also from other processes in the Oil and Gas industry. It is also produced by most animals when they breathe and by vehicles during combustion.
2. The CO2 is transported at high pressure to suitable areas to be stored.
3. CO2 is injected into the ground, either into oil/gas reservoirs or into deep aquifers.

There are some large challenges that CCS must overcome before becoming viable. CO2, when mixed with water, becomes carbonic acid which can destroy steel pipelines in months. Because of this, the CO2 is typically “scrubbed” of any water and transported at a very high pressure so it becomes a liquid.

Storage of CO2 is a challenge. If it is just pumped underground into a cavern it can leak out so it is typically injected into a deep underground river (called an aquifer). As discussed above, this will make the water undrinkable, so aquifers of already poor quality are used. However, CO2 can be injected into old oil wells as a way to revive them (called Enhanced Oil Recovery or EOR). This is really great because not only does it allow more oil to be recovered, but it traps the CO2 underground.

The future of CCS is a bit fuzzy. After Al Gore’s movie, a lot of people became aware of CO2 and climate change. So there is definitely a political push to do something with the CO2 created. However, I’m not sure that when the bill comes in, people will want to pay. Capturing CO2 from a power plant will raise the price of power; maybe not a lot, but some. Capturing CO2 will require building thousands of kilometers of new pipeline. Storing it will create some environmental risk.

The reality is most electricity is created by burning fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, gas). Renewables (e.g., solar, biofuel, wind, tidal) will be very difficult to scale up. Even then they will never cover the energy our planet currently uses. The only real scalable alternative is nuclear power, which has an image problem. Nuclear power has no emission, but does create spent fuel rods which are radioactive for thousands of years. To me, it is the same as if you took all the widely dispersed pollution created by a coal-fired power plant and just concentrated it into one rod. One really really dirty rod. That you don't want to touch. Or hide under someone's pillow, even as a joke. (I'm looking at you, Pickles.)

Our company is committed, so we will be entering an exciting few years while we enter this relatively new area. (At least for North America; Europe has be doing CCS for a decade or so now.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 8 - The End

So the wife and I are all pumped up and ready to tackle painting and tiling the kitchen (the final jobs). We go out on Thursday (Sept. 3) and buy all the latest new-fangled painting supplies and the most expensive paint we can (the colour is Celestial). We go home and we mask off the whole kitchen, lay down plastic to protect the floor and counters, and prep the walls.

I just have to say, my wife is a superstar. She painted the whole kitchen and it looks incredible. She painted our bathroom and our front room. Me, after I helped prep the kitchen (how did I get masking tape in my hair?!), I thought to myself: “I cannot imagine trying to put the backsplash tiles up.” While Karen was at home painting (Friday) I was frantically canvasing my office for anyone who knows a tiler. A co-worked recommended the best contractor of the whole job. I gave Uwe, who owns Condor Ceramic Floor Tile with his wife, a call and he said he might have time next week to fit me in.

Of course, there is still one last job which needs to be done, and apparently it is one of the “blue” jobs which only men can do: baseboards. Saturday (Sept. 5) is baseboard day. Did you know baseboards are very long? Too long to fit in a car? While the wife went out for coffee with her friends, I was carrying four 14’ long baseboards home (luckily, the Home Depot is right by our house). Of course, they were the wrong size (too thin). The wife comes home with the car (she got a friend to drop her off at the Home Depot) to pick me up. Apparently being an engineer has its disadvantages. You see, I think 14’ long baseboard + 8’ long car = walking home. The wife thinks 14’ long baseboards + 8’ long car = just let the rest hang out the back, you idiot, it is only 8 blocks away!

Another PSA: did you know corners are not exactly 90 degrees? So the $3 Walmart plastic miter box I had did not really work as advertised. I guess that’s what I get for being a cheap basterd.

Aside: I had a friend, Craig Hagan, who lived with Peter Scott in a house by the train tracks for years in Grande Prairie. We had a few parties there, and somehow, a hole appeared in their ceiling. When it came time to move, Craig used newspaper and toothpaste to try and “patch” the hole. It didn’t work. When two baseboards don’t come together because the $3 miter box is junk, well … let’s just say the wife and I had to take a page out of Craig Hagan’s book.

Flash to the end of the week. Uwe and his lovely wife come to the house Thursday at 9am. They prep the wall, install the tile, and come back the next day to grout. They play with the dogs. Children are laughing, birds are chirping, and in the distance a pan flute plays. The wife hands Uwe a check (less that he quoted!) and the reno is finally done. We are $9,000 poorer but thankful we have a room we can enjoy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 7 - S'ickles

So the reno is done. But I’ll recap, starting last week, on Wednesday.

The cabinets are in, but the kitchen is still a mess. Our electrician (from Amigo Electrical Services) comes out and deals with the wires sticking out (after removed the light above the sink), plus we get him to change all our outlets from sickly yellow to bright white.

Things took a turn for the worse today. I was a work, after having taken Monday and Tuesday off. The wife phones me and says our youngest dog, Pickles, is sick. He is lethargic and puking blood. The plumber (Clearview) is late. This is ironic since they a big sign on their red trucks which says, “On time or we pay you!” Do not use these jerks. You can see their red truck here:

Anyway, I have to come home so Karen can take Pickles to the vet and I can “supervise” the plumber (again, supervise means play video games). This guys is so out-of-shape that he sounds like he is passing a kidney stone as he installs the new plumbing. I’ve never heard so much grunting and groaning and sighing from a tradesman. Dude, do you want some help? Maybe a pillow so you can take a nap and work up some strength?

Oh, and not only was the “plumber” late, but he came in and said we didn’t have the right drain piece. Um, I’m pretty sure Ikea knows what the hell they are doing when they supply a drain with their sink. But apparently the drain they provide is not the right “kind” so he goes out and buys another one (which looks identical to me, but who knows cause I don’t have my degree in plumbology).

In the end, the dishwasher and sink work, so I pay to (way too much) price of $800. By far, the most expensive trademen on this job have been plumbers. Karen comes home and his happy about the dishwasher, but not happy that Pickles has to spend the night at the doggie hospital for observation (spoiler: he is okay now).

Thursday begins with another flaky contractor. Our tile and paint guy comes to the house (late) and freaks out when he sees the glass tiles we chose for the back splash. He warned us against getting glass tile because the paper backing can peel off and it looks bad. This was what he told us. So we specifically chose tile that did NOT have a paper back. But apparently glass tile is really hard to work with. So why didn’t you say that, moron? The wife was like, “Fine, we can pay more, but in anycase, you are here to prep the room for PAINTING, right, like we talked about?” So this idiot, who apparently can’t remember what he told us a few days earlier, mumbles something about needing to go get supplies and storms out.

Karen calls me and we decide to fire him. She phones him and leaves a message saying we’re going with someone else. A few hours later, the Ikea bowl we gave him (to colour match for the paint) appears on our front step.

Of course, now we have to find a couple of lackeys to paint our kitchen. And those couple of lackeys are us. I’ll say this: thank God I know how to do engineering because if I had to do any sort of trade we’d be living in a van down by the river.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 6

Our contractor and his assistant arrived on-time, Monday morning. They smashed out all the cabinets, while our dogs cowered in the corner. I stayed home to “supervise” things, and by “supervise” I mean play video games all day.

When all the cabinets and tile were removed, you could see the sub-floor where the cabinets were. There were 3 layers of flooring (tile, lino, lino), so the contractors made the decision to remove all the flooring. Once that was done, they spent the rest of the day laying our new flooring (TUNDRA white). It looks like whitewashed wood, and it matches our countertop.

They had a table saw out back, for cutting pieces, so it was a very loud day. At the end of the day, they brought all of there equipment inside.

The next day, Tuesday, was the cabinets. They had a table in the kitchen where they assembled the cabinets, and they used air tools to put them together. This was the part I was worried about, because it takes me forever to put Ikea stuff together (for example, our kitchen table took me 4 hours to build). They were done mid-afternoon.

During the day, the dishwasher was delivered by Sears, and the inspector came to review the dishwasher wiring. The inspector literally walk in, went downstairs, walked up, and left. All for the low price of $120.

In the afternoon, the contractor installed the counter top and sink. Finished! We paid him $2500, which included him taking away the old cabinets, the cardboard boxes, and the old flooring. He commented that he was talking to his buddy the night before and he suspects the bottom layer of tile in our kitchen may have been asbestos. Yikes!!

I’ll talk about plumbing, painting and tiling next.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 5

The wife is happy: we bought a dishwasher. We ordered it from Sears ($644 including delivery) on Monday, and it will be delivered next Tuesday (when the cabinets are being installed). There isn’t much selection when it comes to 18” dishwashers (the standard size is 24” wide). You can basically choose your colour. We went to the Brick on Sunday, just to check around. So why is it they hump your leg when you don’t want to be bothered, but when you have a questions, no one is around. Then we get pawned off to the old guy who “doesn’t know” if they have an 18” dishwasher, so proceeds to surf to check. Thanks but no. That is the second time we’ve asked a salesperson this week if they have something in stock, and they proceed to surf the interwebs for 5 minutes.

We picked up the flooring, TUNDRA white, last Sunday. We got all 7 packages (about 150 sq.ft.) and the underlay in the car. It was “free”; we used the gift cards we got when we purchased our kitchen cabinets. Otherwise, it would have been about $300.

We also finally went through all the boxes that contain our kitchen, and everything was there. (The wife actually told this to our contractor on the phone, and he was surprised; he said most people don’t do that.)

The plumber comes tomorrow and is going to rough-in the dishwasher, in addition to installing valves. The electrician was out yesterday to rough in the dishwasher. I didn’t realize we need a permit to do this; an inspector from the city is coming out on Monday to inspect the work. The electrician was $380, which included at $120 city permit.

The wife is having a hard time finding someone to paint and/or tile. One lady was supposed to come out last night at 7pm. Finally at 8pm, we left a message on her phone to not bother. The guy that came out earlier in the week gave us a price of $600 to paint four walls, and $1200 to tile the back splash. Seriously. We may be doing this ourselves.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 4 - 100 Easy Pieces

IKEA delivered our kitchen on Tuesday. They called us a few weeks ago saying they had received it at the Calgary warehouse. They will store it up to 10 days, but after that they start charging you something like $20 per day.

We were surprised at how little stuff there is. Our whole new kitchen (not including new flooring, baseboards, and dishwasher) is in that room. It weighs 1000 lbs. And we have 7 days to confirm that everything was delivered. I started last night and I guess there is more stuff than I thought.

Next week and the countdown is on. The plumber comes next week to install shut-off valves on our sink. This will allow our contractor to install our sink when he installs our cabinets. The only concern I have is our water lines come in from the bottom of the cabinet (not from the back, like most sinks). We’ll have to drill holes in the sink cabinet bottom shelf and then lower it down overtop of the lines. We will also have the plumber get things ready for the dishwasher, which we will order this weekend.

The wife has a contact for a painter for our kitchen. After the bathroom, I don’t think she will ever paint again. We are going to try and match the blue on our IKEA dishes. It is a robin’s egg, or maybe powder, blue. The only problem we have is the front room and kitchen share a wall, so there isn’t an obvious place to stop painting. I think we’ve decided just to stop it at the edge of a doorway.

The last remaining question we have is whether to strip our floor before we put the new one down. There are two layers of vinyl floor in the kitchen, but one doesn’t go underneath the cabinets. When the new flooring is laid, there may be a bump near the new cabinets.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kitchen Reno - Part 3

The contractor came over last Wednesday. He built all the showrooms at the Ikea store in Calgary (which gives me confidence). He quickly measured up our kitchen and gave us some suggestions. He agreed to do our flooring install, but doesn’t do plumbing, electrical (for the dishwasher hookup), painting, or tiling. He does haul all the crap away, which is awesome.

We booked our install for Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 (3 days). He figures it will only take 2 days but put another in to be safe. He noticed we don’t have valves on our sink faucet lines. He said if we have a plumber come in and put the valves in, he can install our sink. We’ll need the plumber to come in the next day so he can attach the drain (and dishwasher).

We got confirmation of our “pre-measure” from the contractor the next day. We need this to bring to Ikea so they can process our order. On Friday, we went to Ikea to actually buy everything.

They have discontinued the SOLAR white wall cabinet doors (which sucks because they don’t require hardware), but they do have the SOLAR beech base cabinet doors. We chose APPLÅD instead, which look exactly the same. The girl helping us was great, even when she screwed up and gave us LIDINGÖ instead of APPLÅD wall cabinet doors. (I think it was because her hyperactive coworker kept talking to her while she was trying to enter our order: DUDE, you can show her how far a pencil goes up your nose later!) Karen discovered this before we left the store but after we paid. So we had to go back upstairs, get a new order with the right doors, go to returns and have them void the transaction, and then have them ring in our new order. It wasn’t too bad; it gave us a chance to pay for home delivery.

So the total bill was $2800 and we got $400 in Ikea gift cards (which should cover the flooring). The only question left is: where do you store 800 lbs of cabinets and countertops in our little home?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kitchen Reno 2009 - Part 2

Another reason we've though about doing the kitchen reno now is we did the bathroom a few months ago and it wasn't totally terrible. Our bathroom looks nice and it only took a few days. The bathroom did cement the fact that we need someone else doing the kitchen reno, not us.

We went to the Ikea kitchen department two Sundays ago. The first women got us set up on a computer and we built the kitchen while we waited for the second (more knowledgeable) women to come over. Meanwhile, some crazy old dude (who I think worked there, or maybe picked up a blue and yellow shirt from the Thrift store just to f**k with us) came over and asked if we needed some help. I asked if the contractor who installed the kitchen could install the flooring too (and paint, etc.) "No, they just do the cabinets." Karen and I looked at each other. Of course, crazy Thrift store guy was wrong.

Ikea employs a company called Home-Work Contractor Referral who refers a contractor. The contractor (ours = Steve) comes out to the house (Steve = Wednesday) for an initial assessment (e.g., takes measurements), all for the low low price of $80. (Oh yes, my checkbook will be bloody after this.)

The total cost estimate varies from between $10K - $15K depending on whether the installation (i.e., labour) cost is 1x or 2x the material cost. (This is typically the way we look at costs for estimating for engineering jobs ... as a multiple of the material cost.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kitchen Reno 2009 - Part 1

So I thought I'd blog about our upcoming kitchen reno, as I've never gone through anything like this before, and it will be interesting to see the difference between my preconception and reality.

We've been thinking about this seriously for a year. Mainly since I broke our countertop using a hammer to get our old faucet out. Now there is a "rag" which covers the cracked area behind the faucet.

Our kitchen was white when we bought the house. A few years in we (and by we I mean Karen) painted it orange and brown. The cabinets have been painted so many times that the hardware is covered by many layers of paint and couldn't be removed.

The picture in this post is the layout I created using IKEA's kitchen planning software, which is surprisingly good. You can see our kitchen is small. And lacking a dishwasher, which is rapidly become the main reason for the reno.

Currently, the estimate for materials is $2795 (according to IKEA's software). We also plan on painting, putting in new flooring, and adding a new sink and dishwasher.

In subsequent posts, I'll include my total cost estimate and estimated schedule (I am an engineer), before and after pictures, how it was to deal with the contractor, and living without access to the kitchen (hello paper plates!!!)

Monday, February 23, 2009

500 gram diet

Losing weight is very simple: calories consumed less than calories burned . It is very difficult to burn calories, but very simple to consume them, so using exercise for weight loss is not useful (exercise for fitness is a good idea, of course).

The only way to figure out how many calories you have consumed is to weigh your food. Carbohydrates have between 4-5 calories per gram of food. So to lose weight, just weigh all your food and don't eat more than 500 grams of food per day. Eat whatever you want, but you'll soon find that sugary starchy foods will not fill you up. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, yogurt, etc. will keep you feeling full longer. No more looking up foods in tables or on websites. Just track the weight, and keep it below 500 g.

  • This does not include liquids. Never drink pop, juice, or alcohol, and you'll be fine.
  • The recommended calorie consumption is 2700 for men and 2000 for women, but it depends on your weight and activity level.
  • Protein has 4 calories/gram and fat has 9 calories/gram.
** It should be noted that I'm not a doctor nor do I have any training in this area. Also, I have never tried this diet, nor heard of anyone that has used it successfully. I'm mainly posting this so that if the next bestseller is a book called "The 500 Gram Diet", I can sue and then retire.