Maybe Not a Tiny House

We just finished watching the new FYI channel’s “Tiny House” show. The first show featured a couple moving from a traditional home of 1300 square feet to a movable home of 172. The mobile part really limited the design of the home, since no part of the home could be wider than ten feet. Watching the couple sell just about everything they owned and the give up just as much, especially when it came down to how little storage their new home would have, was eye-opening. Both My daughter and I had started the show by chanting “Tiny house! Tiny house!”Halfway through, our chorus had transformed into furrowed brows.

“What about our books?” My wife asked.

It was a good question. Our recent two week road trip confirmed for me that I am fairly happy living out of a suitcase, so long as I also have a bag with a computer in it and some sort of tablet for reading. But I also like the occasional book, and that has to go somewhere after your done with it–this might be less the case if we weren’t a household of re-readers.

Sure, I need fewer codices, especially now that I’m doing more work in the digital humanities, which has been better about adopting information technologies that make it possible to carry texts of all kinds on a variety of devices. Still, there are … things … things I like to have with me.

So paring down would be more difficult than I first imagined: though nothing stops one from not making so radical a step. One need not go from 1300 to 172, which would be something like us going from 2500 to 333 square feet. Nothing wrong with simply going down to 1250.

Much of it really hinges on the quality of the space. The house they built in the show had cathedral ceilings and lots of really nice surfaces as well as a wall of windows in the living room that ran from the floor to the bottom edge to the ceiling that rose twelve feet up, because the roof over the living room maintained the upward slope of the gable. As I have noted to my wife on more than one occasion, our current home is perfectly sized for us. A cathedral idling in the living room would make it perfect. (Well, that and a workspace for me that gave me a place to do the occasional wood work project or build an RC quad copter — okay, a bit more money in my paycheck would help with the latter as well.)

Small Spaces

I have always enjoyed the idea of small spaces, especially elaborate small spaces like these [apartments in Jessica Mason’s list][jm]. I’ve seen the Hong Kong apartment with movable walls before, but I had no idea that “tiny apartment” was a video genre. (But then what isn’t a video genre these days?) Design milk has a similar list of [backyard offices][dm], which are altogether better designed and better made. (That is, they seem to be like the HK apartment, the product of an architectural design process.)

Backyard office

What all these small spaces hold is purpose. At least in their representations, they are all about functionality and bypass cruft. You need a table: here is a table. You have room for two people: here are two chairs, two glasses, two plates, etc.

My own space is approaching these in its purposefulness, but since it is a living space, it also has a fair amount of cruft. Also, it is not as customized as I might like, if only because I don’t yet feel comfortable making too many modifications to the house itself.

If you are interested in the HK apartment, here it is:


Getting Audio from the Kitchen Computer Back to the Stereo

I spent the weekend trying to discover what my options are for getting audio from the kitchen computer to the stereo in the living room. There are two ways to do this: wired and wireless. I have a wireless solution already, a Bluetooth receiver, that I bought for use in my study, but the sound was fairly unappealing and, worse, the connection seemed flaky. The wired solution would be ideal, because there is a Cat 5e cable already running from the living room equipment cabinet, for lack of a better phrase to describe where the television, the DVD player, the stereo, the NAS, and the Airport Extreme (our router) all sit and the Mac Mini in the kitchen.

What I think I want is a device that can sit on the network and that iTunes will recognize as a legitimate receiver. That seems like easiest way to do this. There are a variety of protocols for streaming audio over the internet, but I don’t know any of them and I would’t know where to begin with a home-grown solution.

Off the shelf it is, then, and an obvious place to start would be one of Apple’s devices, because we have already invested in that particular platform, or set of platforms.

What we have used, on occasion, up to this point is a beloved 12-inch PowerBook, which doesn’t require a wired network connection, because I think the ethernet port is broken on it, but it does require being woken up to work and it seems like a fairly dumb use for a much more flexible machine, a machine we would rather have our daughter using for her homework.

We also have an Airport Express we purchased when we lived in our old house so that we could bridge our wireless network into the backyard so we would work while Lily played. (Our old house was built in 1956 and featured amazingly solid construction with brick on the front and masonite siding on the other three sides. I think our problem was that there was an early form of foil wrap used under the siding. We had to place the Airport Express on a window—the window we put in the kitchen—in order to get a signal out of the house.) We were delighted to discover that we did not need the Express in the new house, and so we have reserved it mostly for traveling. The Express will sit on a network and it will act as an audio receiver, but I don’t think I want it sitting in the same cabinet as the Extreme. That seems to me to be asking for trouble. The advantage of the Express is that it already paid for and it offers analog audio out in the form a stereo mini plug.

A second alternative would be to invest in an Apple TV, which at $99 is neither an expensive nor a cheap solution. Unfortunately, aTV’s audio output is optical, and our rather aged Sony receiver is both analog and mechanical — that is, it’s RCA all the way. We can buy a box to convert digital to analog, but that’s another $25+. (When we win the lottery, however, we will look forward to upgrading our entire audio-video infrastructure and none of this will pose a problem.)

But what about a device that would play well with AirPlay, like the Airport Express or Apple TV? Almost everything on [this list][list] is either a speaker or a receiver, with the only devices meant to sit between the computer and a receiver, with speakers, being the aTV and the AE.


A Rainy Friday Morning Project

We have had a couple of days of freezing rain here in south Louisiana, which is bad enough weather as far as the local population is concerned that the area’s schools cancelled classes yesterday and today (Thursday and Friday). (With the host of private schools in Lafayette, there is a great deal of transporting of children at eight in the morning and again at three.) The same storm front that closed airports in Texas and Oklahoma has mostly confined itself to cold rain and some ice-covered shrubbery first thing in the morning, but that may change tonight with predictions of temperatures in the twenties.

That’s bad enough that I worried a bit about our external faucets and, glimpsing a commercial cover at a friend’s house, I decided to build my own re-usable covers out of some styrofoam and the remaining piece of a yard sign that had previously been used to build a new insert for my fieldwork gear bag:


There is a complete slide show here but if you want to see my notes, it looks like your best bet is to view the set.

Excuse the Interruption: We Moved

Please excuse the recent interruption in posts. We have just completed our move to the new house. I am, in fact, posting this from my new study, which is a small space on the first floor but which offers me an incredible amount of natural light: there is a six foot by six foot sliding glass door, a three foot by three foot window, and a four foot by four foot skylight.

Which is to say, be careful what you wish for. I’m a little worried that there might be too much light to work on a computer in this space, and so it could very well be that The Makers of Things will be written this summer by hand and later typed. The marble and brick floors of the new house almost demand that the old ways, the old materials, are better.

Beyond the confines of my small, but well-lit study, the house affords our little family more room for everyone. Yung-Hsing also has her own study, which is twice mine is size but will also serve as a guest room. It will be the perfect place for her to work in the coming year while she enjoys a sabbatical to finish her book. On the same floor as her study is our daughter’s bedroom as well as a sizable landing which has become our daughter’s play area — she has quickly occupied the 12 by 20 space with an array of toys.

Downstairs we have a living area of perhaps the same square footage as the old house but its square shape, as opposed to the longish rectangle of the old living room, actually makes it feel a bit smaller at times. It doesn’t help that books remain in boxes for the time being, while we await more book shelves. (More on the bookshelf-building adventure elsewhere.) But we now have a separate dining area, and a breakfast area that is not in the middle of the kitchen. The kitchen itself is a bit smaller, but a nice sized pantry and a separate laundry room make it feel like we have gained more than we have lost.

I will post images of the new space, perhaps paired with some “before” images,” as things fall more into place.

If you need our new address, just drop me an e-mail at myfullname at gmail dot com. (I trust everyone will know what to substitute for myfullname?)

Cabin Fever

A cabin in the woods. It recalls Thoreau, and in so doing a kind of bourgeois luxury that still somehow speaks to me. Ethan Houser’s little essay on this the first day of the new year caught my imagination, especially in its somewhat self-mocking tone. The essays is [here](

Riverfront Cabin

How to Move Furniture with a Car Jack

With these preternatural, because they seem so premature, hints of autumn hitting us, it turned my mind to the fact that there are a variety of house projects in need of, hmm, *completion*. Almost all of them involve simply painting and affixing wood molding. In the case of the bathroom, both floor and ceiling need some molding, as does the top of the tub enclosure. The kitchen needs toe kicks beneath the cabinets and new crown molding where we installed the new window.

All of this because the promise of cool weather means I won’t mind spending a weekend painting and sawing wood trim on the carport. And painting. And sawing.

As my mind lingered on wood trim and I sat, as I am now, in the study, I realized that the book cases I built for Yung could use some attention. They are functional, but not finished. They could use some layering of finished millwork to dress them up a bit. To do that and to make everything work right, I needed to slip an additional piece of one by eight between the current side of the book case and the frame of the door that leads to the living room:

It’s not readily apparent, but the house is just out of plumb enough that the seven foot fall from the top of the frame to the bottom results in a narrowing of the gap between the book case and the door frame by about a quarter of an inch or so. When I first installed the cases, I was very focused on their being plumb. Only later, after they were already loaded with books did I realize that simply matching the extant, and sufficiently, plumb line of the door frame was the better idea. I had largely overlooked the discrepancy both because I didn’t feel like unloading the shelves in order to hammer on the bottom of the cases to shift them a quarter of an inch and because really, no one ever noticed. (I hate admitting that I actually used that as a reason.)

But now I, as I considered finishing out the cases, not only did I have a practical reason for setting things if not straight then parallel but it was a detail that kept nagging at me each time I passed through the door. But I was stuck with the reluctance of not wanting to unload 54 feet of shelving (2-foot shelves x 27 shelves).

I thought about a hammer. The standard hammers in my tool bag were simply too small. I would make a lot of noise and not get much movement.

So I thought about a bigger hammer: I could borrow a sledge from Gerard or someone else. But would I have enough room to swing it in the span of the 32-inch doorway?


I decided to try a low-tech approach. I sat on the floor, put my back against the wall, and pushed with my feet against the book cases.

*Nah ah.*

But something about the idea of pushing like that stuck in my head and as I walked away to consider my next option, it dawned on me: use one of the jacks from our cars and let the efficient, and relatively easy, transfer of power achieved by the turning of a screw do the work.

But would it work?

How I Moved the Book Cases

What you see in the photo is the jack from my truck. 2 x 8s at each end spread the pressure out so that I don’t leave a mark on any surface. A 2 x 4 completes the span and two miscellaneous pieces of 2 x materials keep the jack and the 2 x 4 aligned. And, yes, I did realize that the two by four my jump up from the pressure, which is why I stood on it while I turned the jack. The result?