Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Art Contest

I've been practicing drawing about 1 - 2 hours about three times a week... not nearly as much as I need to be. Never the less, my skill have been improving. I'm going to enter a couple design contests I saw on craigslist. Who knows, maybe I'll get lucky.

this one
and this one

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Austin Apartment

Yesterday I made the long drive through the cow pastures and little oil towns strewn between Montgomery and Austin, where I was finally able to check out the apartment that I'll be renting for the next six months. The apartment was nice and my future roommate showed me around Austin a bit, which was really encouraging. From what I've seen of Austin so far, the city has the feel of Portland OR and San Angelo TX layered together, making for a lively and amusing culture of liberal swingyness set atop an enduring old-west tone.

Probably the most motivating part of the trip was finding that my roommate, a current UT architecture student, had switched majors from engineering to architecture after being at the school for a while. This is great news, because it not only solidifies the possibility of me being able to get into the arc department, but now I have someone in my immediate network of friends who's actually done it!

Friday, December 19, 2008


I sold the Civic yesterday to my uncle and it was a pretty sweet moment. The Civic cost me quite a bit of time and $ but the mechanical skills I acquired made it all worth it in the end. I feel a little freer and lighter now and look forward to being able to focus on other projects more directly related to architecture - which brings up an issue that I think I should address.

Someone reading this blog might reasonably ask, "If this is supposed to be a blog about becoming an architect, why did the author spend so much time working on his car?" Well, I'll tell you. I'm not going into architecture for the job title. I want to do it because I love designing, building, and fixing stuff. Also, I know that being able to handle tools, troubleshoot mechanical/electrical problems, source supplies and equipment, etc. will be skills I'll need in order to function as a decent architect. And that, my friends, is that.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Civic Hood Latch 2

Unbelievably, I got in the car yesterday to drive it to my Uncle's, only to find that it wouldn't start AGAIN. The starter seemed to be spinning fine but once again there was no fire. When I tried to open the hood and take a look at the ignition fuse, the hood release cable became detached from the hood release mechanism and I was unable to open the hood. The last time this happened it was a huge pita and I ended up having to get a new $22 cable. Once again, the car received one of my thorough verbal assaults.

Luckily, my dad figured out that by wedging the hood open a bit you can access the two bolts that hold in the hood release mechanism. I really wish I had realized this the first time this problem occurred \_/. Anyways, once the hood was open I took the release mechanism out to fix it once and for all (here for pics). Also, the car just decided to start working again without me doing anything to it. Starts right up now! ...what??

Monday, December 15, 2008

Civic Starter 2

Yesterday I exchanged the starter for a good one, bolted it on, and the car started right up. I then decided that before I took it to my uncles' I would try troubleshooting the CD player, which had suddenly stopped working about a week ago. After about 30 mins of testing wires I decided that I would just figure it out when I arrived at my uncle's, since he seems to know more about cars than me. I went in, took a shower, put my stuff in the car... and found that it would no longer start. The starter seemed to be working fine but the car wouldn't fire up. At this point I was really pissed and called the car several choice words before calling it quits for the day.

Today when I resumed messing with the car I found that the CD player had mysteriously begun working again. I also found that a fuse to the ignition harness had blown, probably while I was testing the radio wires yesterday. After replacing the fuse the car started immediately, so thank goodness I can finally $ell it to my uncle for some ramen noodle money. For pics of this project go here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Civic Starter

About a month ago the Civic would 'click' when I tried to start it. I would try restarting it a few times with eventual success, but the problem seemed to worsen as time went on. This morning I was about to drive it to Houston and sell it to my uncle but, alas, it wouldn't start at all. Just 'click, click, click'. I cleaned the battery terminals/posts and used a multimeter to test the voltage on the positive wire going to the starter, and all appeared fine. So I replaced the starter ($80 at O'Reilly's) and the car started immediately. Unfortunately, now when I turn the key and start the car, there comes a scraping/screeching sound from the starter, as if I'm holding the key in the engine ignition position too long. If I let go of the key really fast the sound doesn't last as long, but I can't start the car without making the sound for at least half a second. What's up with this?

Also, the CD player was working one night when I parked the car, then the next morning had no power. I am still trying to figure this one out. Perhaps a ground wire has become detached somewhere?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Next Step

I originally planned to buy a house in Austin while attending the university, but after house hunting for a while I've decided to just rent for a while. It will be much less stressful, plus I've already found a cheap place close to the school, and - get this - my prospective roommate is an architecture student. It will be a smaller room than I've grown accustomed to though, so I've been using this free downloadable program to brainstorm furniture arrangements.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Right Tie Rod Replacement

Before I left from MD I tried to get the Civic aligned, but the Firestone mechanic said that the tie rod nut was frozen and the tie rods were perhaps frozen together. About a year earlier a Sears mechanic told me the same thing about the left tie rod when I went to have it aligned, however I just took it to the auto shop on base and used a big wrench to free the nut myself. Unfortunately, since there isn't a military base for a couple hundred miles from my dad's house I wasn't able to try that this time.

This was pretty much the first time I've had to jack my car up to work on it outside the on-base auto shop, and it was a bit of a pain. Replacing the tie rod didn't go as smoothly as I had hoped but not as slowly as I'd feared. The coolest part of the job was using my dad's angle grinder, an insanely dangerous tool that cut through the 1.5 inch steel tie rod like it was a piece of pine wood. For pics and details of the job, go here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Life in the Country

Life has been so wonderful since getting out of the military! My Dad's house is amazing (pics to come). I've been going to the gym regularly with my brother and spending time with family. I have also been working on finishing my pre-calculus class through UMUC. Actually there is a little story to this class -

In high school I was never great at math but I still managed to get decent grades as I remember it. When it came time for college math, I took the placement test through UMUC and was placed in remedial math, which cost money but did not count for any credits. Outraged, I arrogantly refused to waste my precious time in a 'worthless' class, so I studied at the public library for a few weeks and then retook the placement test. My new score allowed me to take algebra, trig, or pre-calculus. I took pre-calculus because it was worth more credit, and because I was sure I could hack it. Well, it turned out that the commute to the college was significantly more intense than GoogleMaps had led me to believe (over an hour each way in East Coast traffic), and when I got to the classes I was lost. What the hell was this guy talking about? I struggled through the class and by sheer force of will received a C.

But this was not the end of it. By this point I was looking at architecture, and determined that I probably needed to complete higher level math classes. So I enrolled in an online calculus class through UMUC, figuring that I could invest all the time saved by not commuting into more study time. Well, let's just say that this plan did not produce the desired result, lol! WTF WAS THIS GUY TALKING ABOUT NOW? Derivative? WHAT??? Once again, by sheer force of will I made it through this class with C.

At this point I knew it was time to be real with myself. An architect needs to KNOW math, not just have gone through the academic motions. I enrolled in an online college algebra class through San Jacinto College in Houston, a course which required a lot of devoted study and produced excellent results. I received an A in this class, and built a very solid algebraic base. I am now re-taking pre-calculus through a UMUC online course, and it is actually very easy for me now. All that remains is the final exam, and I am confident that I will receive an A in this class. More importantly, I am ready to re-take calculus, and I will rock it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Trip Home

My trip home in the Civic lasted two days and was pretty uncomfortable. I left yesterday, November 24th, and picked up two audio books at Borders to occupy my mind during the drive. One of the books, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, has so far been a gruelingly boring theological ramble, and probably did more to to put me to sleep on the drive than keep me awake. The other book, Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis, is a revisitation of American History that is fairly elementary but still engaging. I enjoy learning about American history, mainly because it's fascinating to discover what is not taught to students in public school systems. One of my favorite books of all time, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, has significantly influenced my views of the world. Anyways, I stayed the first night of my trip in a shabby La Quinta Inn in East Tennessee, which said they had free wi-fi access but it didn't work in my room. The next morning I shared an early Thanksgiving meal with some nice country folk at the hotel, but my mood soon blackened when realized that I'd left my glasses in my room before checkout. When I spoke to the desk about it, they said that the cleaning people had already serviced the room and left, and if my glasses had been found they wouldn't be retrievable until the next day. I left the hotel left blind and outraged, and the trip went a little slower from that point on because I was unable to see road signs clearly.

I woke the next morning to the golden sun shining brightly through my windshield. It seemed to say, "Wake up, Tom, and go home!" I had passed the previous four hours sleeping in my car, parked at a truck stop near Little Rock. Sleeping in the car was a bit uncomfortable, yet, in a way, cozy. I had managed to tuck myself into a little cave formed between two large pickup trucks and and overhanging tree, and slept pretty well in a warm sleeping bag. It was before 8:00 when I finally got up, stretched thoroughly, and entered the truck stop. After washing and having a Subway sandwich for breakfast while listening to Lynrd Skynrd on the intercom, I acquired that most essential cup of coffee and headed back out on the road.

By lunch time I had crossed the Arkansas/Texas border. I ate lunch at a Texas BBQ / souvenir store in Texarkana and let the nostalgia wash over me. By the time I reached Dallas I needed a break, so I slept for a couple hours in a Dairy Queen parking lot. By 8pm I was relaxing by the hearth in the warm living room of my Dad's house, watching TV with my brother. What a looong drive. I'm glad to be home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Car Stereo In

I installed my new stereo and speakers in the Civic today. It took longer than it should have due to the remnants of the stereo system installed by a previous owner. There was some kind of wire routing box in the passenger side door that left me guessing, and aftermarket wires had been spliced & soldered into OEM wires, then snipped when the system was removed. I had to refer to a wiring schematic and it was just a pain. Anyways I got the speakers in, and although they were the cheapest Kenwood speakers I saw at sonicelectronix.com they sound great and they're loud as hell!

Unfortunately there is still something wrong with the antenna - once again, previous owner - and I only get about 4 channels, including a Latino station and a Christian talk station. Also, there must be something missing in the area where the actual stereo sits in the dash. There's nothing to screw into to secure the stereo! Right now it's just sitting in there and is probably fine, but I don't like knowing that it's not right. Have to fix that later. I also finished removing the car alarm.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Life in Storage

I was scheduled to be back home two weeks ago, interning for an architect in Tomball, TX. Instead, I've been waiting on paperwork at the 94th IS in Maryland. It has not been cool. Aside from missing out on considerable opportunities related to my career, I have had to live in a storage room in my good friend John's basement. Overall I am pissed but not dejected. I've been able to spend a little extra time with my friends here in MD and my girlfriend, Aeree, and have been keeping myself occupied with an online class, working on my car, drawing, reading, and planning for UT.

My flow was thrown off today when I received some fretful news. I was contacted by a VA loan representative regarding my "guaranteed" no interest VA loan, and was told that since I didn't have a job lined up I wasn't getting a loan. Good ole' military benefactions - Hey, can I get some blankets too? Extra polio, please. To be honest, not granting a loan to someone without a source of income makes sense, but why do they advertise it as "guaranteed"? (maybe the 0% interest rate is what is guaranteed?) The thing is, according to the new GI bill that was signed into law by the president on June 30th 2008, I will have a source of income - the government will pay my tuition and provide a monthly living stipend equal to the amount the military pays its members w/ dependents for off-base housing. Apparently the VA doesn't view money going into my bank account each month as 'income'.

My plan was to buy a house in Austin with a mortgage of around $800 (found plenty), find a roommate to split the costs (found one already), sell my art work for spending money, and sell the house when I finish college. Now I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm definitely not throwing my money down the apartment hole. I'd rather live on the street, which I am beginning to lightly consider. It looks like my next option is to ask my father to cosign a loan, which I am dreading. I take a certain pride in having 'made myself' for the most part, without much help from my parents, and I dislike the prospect of being indebted to one of them :(

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tips for the American Traveler in South Korea

I'm writing this post on behalf of my buddy Bogle who just got sent to South Korea for a year. I was there from Jan 2005 to Jan 2007 as a Korean linguist in the Air Force, and feel I should offer up some suggestions for others on how to have a good time during your stay on the peninsula. OK here goes:

- Visit Busan! A massive port city w/ a laid back coastal feel. Delicious Korean seafood (get used to it and you'll become lovingly addicted), Haeundae beach, and lots of temples and sightseeing opportunities. Also the Busan Aquarium is located in Haeundae, and they actually let you (and me) go scuba diving in the tank with all the sharks and fish! This was my favorite city in Korea and I made the 3-4 hour trip by KTX train several times.

- See live music! Korea has an awesome scene if you just have the guts to go out and find it. This should help start you out:
  • Osan - around the base the clubs that often have American bands on Friday and Saturday nights are The 99 Club, The Piano Bar, The Hurricane, and sometimes Studio 54.
  • Seoul - There are tons of live music places in Seoul, but the ones I frequented most were Skunk Hell, a raw dive punk club straight from the 70s and 80s (seriously, Korea has punk like it was meant to be), and All That Jazz, a quaint little jazz club. BTW in Korea it's kind of trendy for adolescents to play in jazz bands, and since Asians get pretty serious w/ their hobbies, Korea has plenty of stellar jazz artists.
  • Busan - see here
- Take up snowboarding/skiing! There is a resort called Jisan not too far from Osan, and several others within day trip distance. The resorts are comparable to US East Coast resorts - not great but you can keep your skills up and have fun with your friends. The big one in Korea is Dragon Valley (Yong Pyong), and it is actually pretty sweet but is like four or five hours away from Osan.

- Visit Lotte World! I, regrettably, never visited Lotte World but my friends said it was fun. I think they got discount tickets that day because some people died on a ride the previous day.

- Visit Everland! A HILARIOUS amusement park, and if you have any kind of sense of humor you'll see what I mean when you get there. Prepare to have fun and laugh your ass off, and be sure to see the little parade/shows they have. Also people die on the rides at this park too. Korea has a bit of a problem with this, lol.

- Visit JeJu Do! A beautiful island often termed 'The Hawaii of Asia'. Plane tickets are cheap and the flight is under two hours. I went with the travel agency on base and our package included a few nights stay at a sweet hotel w/ a big pool, an ATV off-road course, and a trip to the gun range where we shot various weapons (still not sure what this had to do with anything, but it was fun). I wish I had stayed longer because that place was great!

- Eat Ramen! My favorite Ramen shop chain in Korea was called Myung EEn, and there's one on the right side of the main drag coming out of the Osan gate. Tell them you want 'duck law myun' and 'kimchi mandu'. God I wish I had that right now.

- Go Bungee Jumping! This place in Seoul is located in a nice park, so even those in your group who decide it's a little too intense can have a nice time. Tip: yell "Whyting!" as you jump to evoke cheers from the Korean crowds. Also, take your dorm key out of your pocket or you'll lose it in the lake (doh!)

- More to come

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Clutch Slave Cylinder Replacement

My clutch had not been disengaging properly due to a leaking slave cylinder, so yesterday I bought a new one from Advanced Auto. It cost $19 and took about an hour and a half to replace by myself. One thing I learned is to always use line wrenches instead of normal wrenches when disconnecting/connecting the clutch lines, brake lines, etc. My normal 10mm wrench did not fit snug enough, and if I had forced it while trying to unscrew the clutch line it would have stripped. Anyways the clutch works fine now and I made a little bit more progress reconnecting the wires and putting the dash back together from my last job. I still haven't put the radio in but at least my instrument panel and blinkers work now, lol.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I found out today that I got into the University of Texas! I was accepted into the school of Asian Studies, which I'll be using as backdoor to the architecture program. I am so happy that my hard work has paid off and my plans are unfurling. Now if I can ever get outprocessed from the military I can start looking for houses, a dog, and work as an apprentice architect!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I tried installing my bezel today which required removing the entire dash. I ran into big problems with the car alarm system (once again, installed by a previous owner.) The wires were a rat's nest under the dash and spliced into various OEM wires. I didn't have time to properly fix it all before the auto shop closed, so I ended up having to throw the car back together and drive home without a working instrument panel.

The car alarm has been an ongoing problem. The battery in the remote would die after just of few days of me replacing it, and then I wouldn't be able to get into my car. I'd have to 'break in' to my own car while the alarm annoyed the whole neighborhood, then disconnect the battery to get it to turn off. After that I disconnected the alarm, but the wires are bulky under the dash and their mere existence irritates me. I've decided that I will just remove the car alarm from the Civic and either put it on my Subaru or sell it.

ALSO I have been losing pressure in my clutch, and today I found the leak under the boot surrounding the clutch slave cylinder. That should be a 1 hour, $30 fix.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dash Removal / Radio & Speaker Install

As previously mentioned, the bezel surround the radio and climate controls on the Civic was broken by a previous owner. I pulled another bezel out of a junked car ($10 at Crazy Rays), but it was all discolored and scratched. I repainted it with auto spray paint, and now it looks great! Unfortunately, I'll have to remove the entire dash to put it in, and I have to put it in before installing my new radio ~~

As a present to myself for getting my car to pass inspection, I bought a pair of Kenwood KFC-1651S Speakers, Kenwood KDC-MP208 stereo deck, and a wiring harness. With shipping it all together cost me $111.24 from Sonicelectronix.com and arrived within three days of placing the order, well packaged. For the install I'm going to follow some good looking instructions from this how-to guide on importnut.net. I plan to get a couple audio books to listen to on my long drive back to Texas in a week or so.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Civic Inspection Time

I guess I never mentioned this in a post but last month I took Geoff to Mr. Tire for a state inspection. The car didn't pass on a number of items, but they told me that if I fixed the failed items and came back within a month they would reinspect it at no additional charge. Yesterday I replaced the torn tie rod boot, which was the last thing I had to do. In total, here's everything I've done to Geoff to get him inspection-ready:

  1. Done a few oil changes
  2. Replaced dome light bulb
  3. Replaced master brake cylinder
  4. Replaced passenger side axle assembly due to torn CV boot
  5. Re-bolted loose window track to door
  6. Sprayed silicon spray on window tracks for faster window operation/longevity of rubber
  7. Replaced rear passenger side wheel which was out of round
  8. Replaced cracked driver side taillight
  9. Replaced passenger side mirror and rear quarter panel window, which I broke
  10. Switched OEM wipers with Bosch wipers for clearer vision in inclement weather
  11. Replaced hood release cable
  12. Replaced back-up lights fuse
  13. Put on four Kuhmo tires
  14. Spliced in used OEM driver side headlight harness for proper power to headlight
  15. Replaced muffler (which had a breach in it from rusting) with '93 Civic DX 2dr Coupe muffler
  16. Replaced driver side inner tie rod boot - CAR PASSED INSPECTION AT THIS POINT
  17. (update) Replaced driver side outer tie rod
  18. (update) Replaced cracked climate control/radio bezel
  19. (update) Replaced clutch slave cylinder
  20. (update) Installed door speakers and CD player
  21. (update) Replaced right inner & outer tie rod
  22. (update) Got an alignment at Quality Car Care
  23. (update) Replaced starter

Thursday, October 9, 2008


It's an early Christmas! I've been making frequent trips to Crazy Ray's "you pick it you pull it" auto salvage, and have been using my roommate Neal's tools. I figured it was high time I got my own, so today I went to Sears and bought an awesome 192-piece Craftsman tool set, a 24-piece Craftsman screwdriver set, and a plastic hardware organizer. All together it set me back $196, but I know this was a good investment - all the Craftsman tools have a lifetime warranty. I already used them tonight to fix my windshield wiper blade, and I can't wait to start pulling cars apart this weekend!

Sunday, October 5, 2008


I really need to boost my drawing skills if I’m to be a good architect. I love drawing (which got me in plenty of trouble all throughout school, lol) but the military did a good job of repressing my creativity for six years. Looks like I get to make up some lost time! I especially love pen and ink drawings, so I plan to focus on that for a while. Today I’m going to talk to a friend who works at Michael’s to see if I can get a discount on some good pens.

Speaking of which, on Saturday I went with Aeree to a little crafts fair in downtown Annapolis. Most of the items for sale were just junk, but combing through one of the tables I found an awesome pen and ink newspaper courtroom drawing from 1873. I love the style and subtle use of color, and it is almost exactly how I want to be able to draw. How much did I pay for this treasure? Five dollars.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Transcript Problems

In the spring of 2005 I started taking college classes from the University of Maryland University College. I was stationed in Korea at the time, and because UMUC had a branch office on my base it seemed like the best of my few options. Though I have enjoyed a UMUC teacher or two, overall I have not been impressed with the school or it's faculty, and now they have almost screwed me out of attending UT by not mailing my transript.

Over the summer I paid UMUC to send transcripts to San Jacinto Community College in Houston. San Jac said they never received the transcripts and could not let me register. I paid UMUC to send them again, this time rush delivery. Once again, San Jac said they never received them. After weeks of dealing with both schools and no one wanting to take responsibility, San Jac finally let me register for classes based on a fax from UMUC. Now the same thing has happened with my UT application.

Long story short, I paid UMUC to send my transcripts, which they never did. Why? Because, quote the UMUC registrar's office, "I have no idea". The UT admissions office was not helpful either, and refused to give me any extension or accept a temporary unofficial transcript fax until the official one arrived. I ended up having to take off work, drive an hour to the UMUC student services center and have them hand over my transcripts, then pay for overnight mail delivery to UT. All to update one class on my transcript.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Internet Cafes

I am a huge proponent of Internet cafes. I used to spend countless hours in my basement doing homework, to the point that I felt like it was damaging my personal relationships. I bought a laptop to create some options as to when and where I could work on the computer, and it has been great! One of my favorite things to do is go with a friend (usually Aeree) to a coffee shop with Internet access and hang out. Drinking coffee or tea helps me focus on my work, plus I get to spend time with her. Here are some of my favorite free-Internet coffee shops in Maryland:

Mad City, Columbia - has that "indy" feel; nice staff; live local music weekends; within walking distance from my house!

Caribou Coffee, Crofton - more corporate but still cozy; delicious coffee; couches, though not especially comfortable

City Dock Coffee, Annapolis - within downtown Annapolis; near to lots of restaurants; not very comfortable furniture

Bread, Columbia Mall - tasty cheese & broccoli bread bowls; can be crowded; interior design is more towards that of a restaurant than an Internet cafe

City Cafe, Baltimore - lively cafe/bar/restaurant in downtown Baltimore. You can get unlimited refills on certain coffees and there is artwork for sale on the walls.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Civic Hood Latch

A few months ago the Geoff's hood release cable became disconnected from the latch mechanism, and I ended up having to cut the cable and pull on it with a pair of pliers to open the hood. Replacing the cable was easier than I thought, but in doing so I noticed that one of the headlights was dimmer than the other. It looks like a previous owner spliced a new harness into the headlight wires, possibly while installing aftermarket headlights. I'll check the junkyard for OEM wires.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

College Application Submitted

Today I finished submitting my application to the University of Texas at Austin's Liberal Arts department. Unfortunately, I don't currently possess the academic background to get into the UT architecture department. Garrett Loontjer, a UT architecture admissions councilor, told me last semester that my best bet is to get accepted to another program at UT, then work with him to change majors once I arrive at the school. This seems dangerous, but I'm actually not too far from getting a degree in Asian Studies anyways so if worse comes to worse I'll still get a degree. Why go through all this trouble to get into UT's architecture program? Because it is one of the best architecture programs in the country, it is relatively cheap for Texas residents, and Austin is awesome! Here is my statement of purpose essay, personal essay, and college application resume. Remember these are geared towards acceptance into the Liberal Arts department.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

New Home Stereo!

About six months ago I purchased a pair of old floor speakers from a guy at work for about $20, intending to use them but never finding an inexpensive receiver that I liked. They still looked kind of cool though, so I'd just been using them as nightstands. On Tuesday this week, I found an old Pioneer receiver at the base thrift shop that seemed to be in good condition, and paid $7.50. I got home and hooked up my receiver and speakers, and they rocked! I looked up the receiver on the internet and found that it was produced in 1975 and is one of the first ever surround sound systems. As I write this, the same receiver is selling for on Ebay for $249! The JBL speakers are valuable as well, and according to an audio forum they sell for $130-180 a pair!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Civic Mirror

Fall is here! I hate that we're losing daylight but the weather sure is refreshing. This evening I replaced Geoff's broken passenger side mirror and secured the passenger side window track. For pics go here. And for some feedback on the window replacement project, the first tank of gas after fixing Geoff's window averaged 37.9 mpg!

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I made a scary but wonderful investment yesterday. As Aeree and I enjoyed a delightful Saturday evening in Annapolis, we came upon an art gallery. I saw a painting that I loved, and after talking to the managers for some time about the painting and art in general, I forced myself to leave and we went to dinner and a coffee shop. I couldn't stop thinking about the painting, so on our way back to the car I stopped by the gallery and bought it. It's the first real piece of fine art I've ever purchased, but I figure that I'm already way behind other architects in regards to my art education and this is a good start and a solid investment. I can't wait to move to Austin and hang it on my wall!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Faster Windows

The door windows in my Civic (he's named Geoff, btw) rolled up and down really slowly and roughly, so today I took the doors apart and applied some silicone spray to the rubber tracks. In doing so, I found that the plastic mirror wire covering on the driver's side door has a broken piece that needs fixing, and the passenger's side window track has disconnected from the door. These should be easy fixes but I'll have to wait until this weekend to get to them. For pictures and details of this project, go here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Civic Window Replacement

I've been working on replacing the rear passenger-side quarter panel window in my Civic for quite a while now, and today I think it's finally done. The window and mirror were damaged beyond repair in an accident on the way to work one morning, and the cheapest online quote I found was $288 for just the glass. Added with labor costs, this would be more than what I paid for the whole car! (I bought this 1995 Honda Civic EX for $300 from my friend Matt Hathorn). It took me over two months and extreme hassle to finally find a window at a junkyard, but I only had to pay $50.

I thought about trying to buy some sealant and put the window in myself, but I figured that after all the trouble I'd gone through to get the window I wasn't about to break it doing something I had no experience doing. After calling around to auto glass shops near Columbia, I found Advance Auto Glass who said they'd install it for $65. It was a good decision because these guys were great! The owner let me work with the technician, Eric, who did an outstanding job.

Lessons learned:
1. Don't assume you're going to get a better deal on auto glass at a junkyard than at an auto glass shop. In this case, Eric said that he could have ordered a brand new glass panel for around $25 more that what I paid, and it would have looked better. It also might have come with a warranty.
2. If you buy auto glass at a junkyard, make sure the seal wasn't damaged when they cut it out of the car. Such was my case, and although Eric did a great job minimizing the damage you can still see where the junkyard guy screwed up.

Overall it was a great experience and I learned the basics of auto glass repair from seasoned experts. I'm excited to see how much my gas mileage improves now that my window's in! For more pictures and details on this project, go here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Civic Axle Assembly Replacement Project

Today I replaced the front passenger side axle assembly on my 95' Honda Civic. It was much easier and quicker than I thought it would be, especially when my roommate Neal showed up later to offer a hand. (Literally one hand, since he injured his other in a recent motorcycle accident). One of the best benefits of being in the military is getting to use the on-base auto shops. For only a few bucks an hour you can use a huge assortment of tools and there are experienced mechanics available to offer tips and limited assistance. Pictures of today's job can be found here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Home Drywall Repair

One of my current projects is fixing a hole I knocked in the wall a few months ago. Without going into the shameful details, there was a party and my ass found its way in between two studs in the living room. (And no, there was no less homoerotic way to word that sentence.) I have never worked with drywall before and this project has definitely been a learning experience. My friend Joseph House was kind enough to lend me drywall tools and advice, but that did not prevent my first attempt from being a messy failure. Because this hole is in a high traffic area and the house we are renting is very nice, the repair has to be invisible. My first patch was definitely NOT invisible, so I had to cut it out and start again.

Some lessons learned from the first patch:
1. Score and snap a drywall panel with a straight edge and utility knife, don't make an imperfect hack job with a small drywall saw.
2. If you do it right, there is very little sanding involved
3. Prep the room by laying plastic over the floor of the work area and placing a fan in front of the nearest window to blow the drywall dust outside
3. For a patch 12"x12", you must screw the patch into the studs, not just assume the plaster will hold it in place
4. After you apply and scrape off a layer of plaster, don't try to reuse the scraped off plaster

So I made some rookie mistakes in the beginning. Now I think I'm set though, and this next attempt will be much better. One problem I'm running into is that the two studs I'm screwing into are not flush. The original builders seem to have compensated for this by placing a layer of hardboard between the left stud and the drywall. Unfortunately I must have cut away this hardboard when I removed the initial damaged patch, so I'll need to come up with a way to make a spacer for the left side. Pictures of the project can be found here.

First Post

Hello to anyone who is bored enough or lost enough to peruse this blog. My name is Tom and I'm in the initial stages of becoming an architect. I have established this blog with the intent of using it to keep track of my projects and overall journey into registered architect land. I hope this blog might somehow be used by other young architects or builders in the future.