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.