House Hacking.

(Almost) no KDE in this blog entry, you can happily skip it if you’re not interested in anecdotes about my life outside of Free software. :)

I’ve been quite busy lately with some non-coding stuff. Kim and I bought a house in Nijmegen (about 10 minutes by bike from our current place), and we got the keys two weeks ago. The house is in pretty good shape, but still needs some improvements to make it really ours (I call it the "bonding process"). The biggest one is renovating the roof under which my new home office will be located. As I work from home, and quite a lot so, that room is really important to me. As for the really important stuff, you should get a professional, we looked around and recruited a small company that’s specialized in this kind of renovation projects. Ton Brink has since then stripped the top floor, added a window to the north-east and isolated everything around it with 8 cm thick glass wool. Big energy saver. the roof was previously not isolated at all (the house was built in second half of the 60s, and the top floor wasn’t used anyway so the whole floor was used as isolation layer albeit with a gaping hole — the staircase). A No-No by today’s standards. Besides that, the climate in the Netherlands is as such that it’s either too cold or too hot, and that’s doubly so under the rooftop. (I know everything about it, since our current apartment is also top-floor, so it cools out relatively quickly, and is very hot in those couple of weeks of summer we usually get — in a record night last summer, it stayed above 29 degrees centigrade with all windows open. Complaining about the weather is also a very typical Dutch habit I’ve acquired over the years.). So, isolation is important to keep the place both warm and cool. The south-west side of the roof (its back side) gets an extended roof window (a "dormer") over the full width adding quite some volume to the room itself. That window goes to the south-west, and will get electric sun-screens to block out direct sunlight. That one is rather important the windows are huge, the desk will be near the windows and direct sunlight on the screens is an ergonomic nightmare putting a lot of strain on the eyes. The room will otherwise be warmed and cooled with an air-conditioning unit, as it doubles as shelter for the too warm nights in the summer. Interestingly, when considering heating options, it turned out that the air-conditioning will be the more efficient way to keep the room warm than the currently installed central heating unit. Out the door goes the big radiator, in goes a book-shelf full of geek literature.
There’s a nice 3-seater sleeping couch on the shopping list for my home office as well, so it triples as guest room with king-size bed for friends or fellow hackers for sleep-overs. The couch is located right under the window, so spacing out there is will be fun, as you can watch the stars during longer compile jobs. What would an office without a comfy couch be, anyway? I was quite amazed to see the room going from its original state to a stripped-down version and now gaining features again, such as the new front window and isolation layer today (good timing, this afternoon was the ‘dry period of the week’). There’ll be closets and drawers in the dead corners, which can house piles of hardware and cabling to unclutter sebas’ hacking space.

One of the things I haven’t figured out yet is what the best lighting option for the room would be. I’d like not-too-direct light there, and it should be reasonable warm-coloured. I’ve been looking a bit into the direction of LED lamps, but I’m not quite happy with the options. Most common are LED elements with a couple of LEDs combined into a halogen-style fitting. Prices begin at 15€ per element, so they’re not exactly inexpensive, and prices rise quickly. There seem to be big differences in quality among those elements, and they’re not by nature dimmable as well. There are dimmable LED lamps on the market though, so that’s probably solvable. What I don’t find enough information about is about the light colour. I certainly don’t want blue-white light in the room. The thing I really like about the idea of LED lighting in my office is that it’s ridiculously energy efficient, and it rubs my geek nipples in just the right way. My impression though is that LED lighting is not quite mature yet in terms of mainstream market availability, and that I therefore might not get what I’d want the result to be. The energy efficiency might actually backfire if you just put LED elements into halogen fittings, the power supply for those lamps is probably made for consumption of about 10 times as much juice, I guess loss during the transformation down to consumable voltages adds up quite a bit. (Correct me if I’m wrong, I didn’t pay as much attention during physics lessons back at school.) Also, I didn’t find a lot of new applications of LEDs, as you can more easily spread the light over a larger source area, I’d imagine some new cool and more useful shapes for lamps should be possible. If anyone reading me can shed some light on this, please leave a comment.
An alternative option is of course halogen lighting. Downsides: less geeky, more Watts. Upsides: lot of choice on the market, suitable colouring and dimming capabilities. (I’m quite happy with the halogen lamps we’re currently using.)

I’m myself mostly occupied with sanding and painting (proof, note the cheesy comment: "even if I’m painting white, I’m still the man in black" follows the "official meloenstraat renovation sound-track Johnny Cash, Pearl Jam, Madonna and Tiesto) slightly more boring, but also a lot closer to my improving skill-set. I’ve actually been enjoying the painting and fixing up of the house so far, it’s a nice change from my usual activities, which involve far less physical exercise (if traveling isn’t counted as "physical exercise"), but just about the same amount of attention to detail. As a side-effect, I’m losing a bit of weight, which is also welcome as I’m slightly overweight (only slightly, really :P). By the end this house-hacking exercise, I’ll likely be stable around normal weight for a person of my length, so that’s a nice bonus. It means I can gain weight again, which usually involves fun. :-)

Tonight, Kim and me have varnished a bunch of door frames with a medium dark grey. I’m not a 100% sure if that’s the perfect tone against the white walls, but then the idea is to add color by printing and framing some of the nicer photos I’ve taken over the past years, it might just all look very neat in the end. Tomorrow, wallpaper will be delivered which we’re applying towards the end of the week on three walls spread over two rooms. The master bed room gets a relatively flashy photo-wall, Kim’s room is in for a "modern 70s-style" 3d-ish pattern. My realistic expectation is that the rooms will look kick-ass with walls like that, and that the large photo wall adds both depth and a good amount of colour to the room. It’ll otherwise stay relatively sober (it’s a bedroom). That of course only if we manage to apply the wallpaper neatly enough. I’ll post photos of the result to the FlickR stream.

There’s a lot more things to do, the floors and both staircases will get new floors, most likely linoleum as that’s easy to maintain, long-lasting and very sustainable in general, being made of fast-growing natural materials and fully bio-degradable after its supposedly 20-25 years lifetime. (It’s also convenient since it offers less of a target for the cat’s claws — still soft and warm enough to sleep on.

I often compare (as the subject of this entry already suggests) the renovation with a hacking project. In the beginning, we have a vague idea of what I want the end result to be. Then we started planning and doing some research, but also quickly started doing things. Along the way we find out how to solve things, and by putting in hours it becomes apparent how things work out, and what part of the plans and ideas need changing. This is also pretty much how I get into new exciting hacking projects. I start off with an idea what the end result roughly should be. Then I do some research, which often involves getting some feedback from others if the overall idea is sound, and what kind of problems I can expect that I hadn’t thought of myself. This is an important part of the process, since it actually helps with getting things accepted by others when it’s done, and communicates plans so you don’t end up working in parallel with someone else on the same thing without knowing of each other’s efforts. Then I start to tag along with filling in parts of what needs doing, concentrating on overall progress, but much more working out the details. And those take time, for example, I’d not imagined (naive as I can be), how much time painting heating pipes can be, or cleaning out the used brushes afterwards. In the end, you ship your project (or move into the house), and then you’ll inevitably start seeing small and bigger things that still need doing. The maintenance process starts, but also the period where you really make it yours, and where your work-flows and living habits adapt to the new environment. (After all, the hacking project also started to scratch an itch.)

We’re moving in the last weekend of October, and much needs to be done still. It should all be finished by the first week of November, so that I can clean my head again for more work- and KDE-related things. The idea is really to turn the house into something we can comfortably live in, and and for me personally to create some space for myself that offers a relaxed environment for doing creative things and being productive.

In November, my fellow KDE e.V. board members come over to Nijmegen (where also Adriaan lives) for one of our regular board meetings. This time around we chose Nijmegen as location, since it’s very easy to reach from inter-continental flights into Amsterdam (having Celeste go through 3 lay-overs is probably not very helpful for a productive meeting), and by train from Berlin (for Claudia) and southern Germany for Cornelius and Frank. There’s a well-equipped (food, drinks, power plugs) ICE stopping in Arnhem, which is just 15 minutes from Nijmegen. So I hope to get everything done in time for the meeting, so we can warm the house with some KDE love =)

4 thoughts on “House Hacking.

  1. Maybe a 5 Meter LED Strip is useful for you? It’s RGB and you’re able to choose the color you like.

    I don’t know, if the link above is a fully working system (power supply, remote control, anything else needed). But this link points to such a full working set and a friend of mine has bought it and is quite happy about it (Sorry for german link):


    1. Heh, disco lights! Very cool, but not quite what I’m looking for. What I need is normal lighting for the room, not coloured LEDs. (With coloured in the article, I mean “warm light” instead of “cold light”, but all tones of white.

      I’ll think a bit about the disco option. :)

      1. Hi.

        I too have been researching LED as a modern lighting source and i am planning to start using LED strips in certain places, although in warm white and not RGB. I like how versatile they are, as can be bent into almost any shape, are easy to mount as they are fitted with double sided tape on the back and they can be cut so you can a strip of any length between 5 cm and 5m in 5 cm increments, and finally, they can be dimmed with a 12V dimmer..

        The specific strip i am looking at is a high power variant (another reason not to use RGB, their light output is only one third of a warm white strip of the same power consumption) that has 60 diodes per meter and is using 8.1W/m and gives 550-600 lumen/m. (900 lumen = 60W incandescent light bulb)

        The first project i will be using it in will be for ambient lighting for the living room when watching movies. I have a 58″ plasma tv on the wall and will be mounting the strip behind the tv. A dimmer here is a must as i dont want too little and even less too much light :-) The following link is an inspiration image from a site that sells the strips, it uses the strip mentioned above dimmed to one third. The second link is to the strip itself, the site is in danish so the link is a google translate link.

  2. LED lamps are still pretty immature, I agree. Though I have 2 bulbs now that I am pretty pleased with, especially my latest buy. The light is marketed as “warm white”, and it appears much more white than traditional heat-based bulbs. They don’t shade to blue, according to my eyesight, though. In principle, all LED light is dimmable but a transformer between the bulb and the power source can make dimming impossible.

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