Hello from Word Press!

After ignoring my blog for a while, I’ve finally moved it off of Blogger and onto wordpress so that I could get an SSL certificate and encrypt the site. All of the links should still work and all of the photos should still be there.

Let me know if there are any issues!

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

After a brief period of enjoying living in our remodeled house, we’re ready to start on the 2nd floor addition.   Our plan is to start construction in the spring/summer of 2016.  To do that means that we need to be planning now.  We’ve been working with our architect for the last couple of months to finalize the layout of the second floor and we got a bid from the contractors that did the previous remodel.  The bid let us know that we’re in the right ballpark in terms of cost.  Stay tuned for more updates.  In the meantime, I’m looking at siding pictures to figure out what kind of siding I want.

I made a closet map

Life has been a bit nuts since the baby has come.  One of the surprises I’ve had to deal with is how quickly we go through clothing sizes.  We’re saving all of the kiddo clothes because we are planning on having another.  This means we need some sort of storage approach for all of the baby clothes as we go through it.

Our approach has been to store it in plastic tubs, organized by size.

Tubs ordered by size.

The closet we’re using to store all of the clothing is underneath our basement stairs.  This means that it’s not going to be fun to pull the clothing out as it’ll be buried behind other stuff and we don’t have line of sight to all of the things in the closet.  The other problem we’ll have is that I’ll have no idea what is where in a few years when we actually need it again.

My solution was to build a closet map.  Using a quickly made sketch of the basement closet and a small piece of Lexan, I created a whiteboard “map” for the closet.

The final product, I’m never going to remember where the maternity clothes are hiding.

The project was easy and cost me about $4.50 in parts.

What you need:

  • Piece of Lexan
  • 4 washers
  • 4 screws
  • Level (you have a level right?)
  • Screw driver 
  • Drill
  • Your map
Lexan is a trade name for polycarbonate, a clear plastic that is extremely strong and durable.  You can find it at Lowe’s or Home Depot and comes with a protective film on both sides.

From here it was pretty straight forward, I added four anchors to the wall (using the level to make sure everything was straight), then used the washers to hold the map and lexan in place.

Anchors installed
Hopefully I’m saving myself a few weeks of searching for the maternity clothes the next time we need them.

The Home Alarm Post: FrontPoint Security

Following our burglary, we had an alarm system installed.  After way, way too long, I’ve finally written about the alarm system we went with.  Looking at the different options, we went with FrontPoint Security.

I went with FrontPoint for four reasons:

  1. Excellent customer support.
  2. Self install.
  3. Transparent pricing.
  4. I liked the technology.

1. Customer Service

The customer service is indeed awesome, setting up an alarm system is a high touch activity and it required many calls with them to get my questions answered and to setup the sensors.  They are super friendly and super knowledgeable on the phone.  The tech support are not a bunch of wankers reading off of a script, they really do know how the systems work, and when they don’t, they know how to get help.
I wanted a glass break sensor in my kitchen, they recommend you don’t do that because if you drop a plate or glass and it breaks, you can trigger the alarm.  I called them and asked them to move the glass break sensor into the “away” sensor group, this isn’t a common request and they were able to handle it easily.
My biggest complaint about customer service is the hours:
5:00 AM – 8:00 PM PST M-F
7:00 AM – 3:00 PM Sat-Sun
Naturally, I’d rather have them be 24/7.  The service hours are definitely east coast biased.

2.  Self Install

My wife wasn’t in a good place, and I didn’t want to deal with an installer after the break in. I wanted the system in fast and FrontPoint next day aired me everything (for free).  The self install can’t be any simpler, with the exception of the (optional) recessed door sensors, everything is tool-less and only requires you to use the sticker adhesive the units come with to install things to the walls or doors/windows.  I was leery that an installer would just cost more money and I didn’t want them in my house.  

3. Transparent Pricing

The pricing is *mostly* transparent.  You’ll know right away what you’ll spend on equipment and you’ll know what the monthly fee is.  What they don’t tell you until after you’ve signed up (but within the 30-day no questions asked period) is that you pay a $10 fee to the city (divided into four $2.50 payments, one per quarter).  This is required and it was the only surprise fee.

4. The Technology

I like the technology, it’s all based on z-wave, cellular,  and GE Security (which isn’t part of GE) has a strong position in the market, you can also buy sensors from other companies if you want and more importantly, you can buy sensors elsewhere.  I purchased  many sensors off of e-bay and the Frontpoint techs had no problem installing them.  Now that I have the system, I’m going to start adding environmental sensors.  I like

Notes from my installation:

Sensor Placement:

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of documentation on how to do this right, here’s what I did:
My theory was that every egress point should have two different monitors on it.  Every door and window that is accessible without a large ladder has a sensor on it.  These trigger when the window or door is opened (the sensor is a magnet and a steel rod, when the magnet doesn’t sense the rod, the alarm goes off).
In addition, each window/door is covered by either a glass break sensor or is very close to a motion sensor.  I have mixed feelings on the glass break sensors.  There isn’t an easy way to test them, so I don’t actually know if they work.  It’s more faith than I’d like to have in an alarm system, but, they’re secondary to other sensors.
My thinking is, that if someone breaks the glass and doesn’t open the window, I’ll still catch them within my house.
I have no motion sensors in dog areas, the basement is protected by a glass break sensor and the openable windows and door have sensors.
If you are going to mount a motion sensor, the trick is to mount them higher to compensate for your dog, the motion sensors have a 90 degree frame of view on the horizontal but a very small field of view on the vertical, mounting them higher should prevent a dog from triggering them but you’ll want to test it.

Control Panel

I mounted the control panel in an easily accessible place, it’s powered off of a large power brick which I installed inside a closet, drilled a whole through the wall and wall mounted my panel.  You can actually mount the panel anywhere as you almost never use it (we use our phones to arm/disarm), it is good to have near your main point of egress (as opposed to the main door on the house if you don’t use that), because it’s likely you’ll inadvertently trigger the alarm and you’ll want to shut it off quickly.  The main concern with placing your panel is that it isn’t visible from the street, you don’t want bad guys to see if it’s disarmed or not.
FrontPoint is very proud of the “Crash and Smash” protection.  Once a sensor is triggered, there is a time delay before the system goes into alarm.  This time delay is there so that the homeowner can get to the panel and disarm the alarm.  A bad guy can use this delay to their advantage by destroying the control panel before it sends the “alarm” signal to the monitoring center.  Crash and Smash protection means that the alarm sends an “alarm pending” message to the control center immediately*, if the control panel is disarmed before the timeout, the panel sends an “alarm cancel” message.  If the panel is destroyed, the alarm goes into effect.
*Immediately is very subjective and I couldn’t get a real answer from FrontPoint on what the latency is from sensor triggered to “alarm pending” message received by the monitoring center.  I’d love to know, what it is, but I can’t find any info online.

Things I wish FrontPoint did better:

  • 24/7 customer service (or at least more West Coast friendly).
  • Better guidance on sensor placement, particularly glass break sensors.
  • Publish panel latency and incident response time.
  • Online account management, want to update your credit card?  You need to call them.
  • Not really FrontPoint, but I would love an outdoor rated door sensor, something I can put on my gates.
  • I’d also like a hard wired smoke alarm option.  All of my other smoke alarms are hard wired, so in theory, it’d be easy to hard wire a compatible alarm in that notifies the control center when any of my alarms go off.

We had a break-in

Sadly, we suffered a break-in earlier in December.  It was an interesting experience that I learned a lot from.  Most surprisingly is that I wasn’t angry that we had a break-in, more disappointed.  Some of the things I did to prevent or minimize the damage of a break-in worked, and other things didn’t.  From my perspective, it was only a matter of time before we were targeted.  The city of Seattle has a real problem with burglary, from January-August of 2013, burglary rates are up 23% already.  Bring up the subject at a party and everyone there will either have been a victim or will know multiple victims.  It’s a fact of life if you live in the city.

Do you know this woman?   

If you think you know who she is, send me an e-mail at koz <at> kozknowshomes.com.

The Story

I came home around 7:00 PM.  As soon as I got home, I knew something was wrong because of the noises coming from the house.  Ransacking is a very distinct sound!  Instead of doing the obvious thing and calling the police immediately, I opened the front door.  Once I opened the door, I was sure there were  people in the house and I called the police.  To their credit, Seattle PD arrived within 5 minutes, but the burglars heard me place the call and ran out of the house before the police got to the house.  Thankfully, they took off without actually taking anything.
After looking at the camera footage, it was clear that the burglars were in the house for maybe 5-6 minutes (certainly less than 10).  The burglars got in via the door in the basement and went straight to our bedroom, in the few minutes they were in the house, they caused about $1,000 in damage.  They damaged my gate, broke the window in the back door, toppled a dresser and broke a shelf in my closet.  They had filled a laundry basket with “loot”, where “loot” is a euphemism for costume jewelry and an old xbox.  My guess is the items in the basket would pawn for less than $300.
For the curious, here are the videos of Bonnie and Clyde scoping my house:
Entryway camera, you can see my car pull into the driveway at the very end:
Here’s the carport camera:

I’d taken some steps to make my house a less attractive target, I covered some of these actions in a previous blog posts.  Some of these worked, others didn’t.

Things that worked:

  • Safe Deposit Box
  • Cameras
Things that didn’t work:
  • Gate locks
  • Alarm System Sign
  • Lighting
  • Back Door
  • Me

Things that worked:

Safe Deposit Box:

This is a no brainer, we don’t keep anything of “real” value in our house, the important documents and what little extra-fancy jewelry we have, we keep in a safe deposit box.  If you want to keep these things at home, then get a safe.  If you get a safe, MAKE SURE YOU BOLT IT TO THE WALL OR FLOOR.  A safe doesn’t do you any good if the bad guy can walk off with it.


Keep in mind, cameras are not prevention.  Let’s repeat that just to be clear: cameras are not prevention.  What the cameras did do for me was create evidence that I then gave to the police.  They were very interested in the footage.  The cameras also did a great job in letting my wife and I see exactly what kind of criminal was targeting us.  It’s clear from the video that these aren’t exactly high end cat burglars but instead people who randomly picked our house.  If you look at the first few seconds of the video, you realize that the woman scoped a neighbors house while the man scoped ours.  If  she had been a little bit faster with screening my neighbors, we may not have been hit at all.  Being able to see this was really good, particularly for the Mrs., she was MUCH calmer about the incident after seeing the video.

Things that didn’t work:

Gate Locks

I had installed keyed gate locks to my gates thinking that this would deter theft as the bad guy wouldn’t be able to get into the back yard.  This was naive on my part, instead of deterring the thieves, they broke through my gate.  If I’m going to keep my gates locked going forward, I’ll have to reinforce the gates so that they can’t be broken so easily.  Repairing the gate was a few hundred dollars.

Alarm System Sign

I don’t believe in the effectiveness of alarm systems for deterring  theft, I figured anyone who would be deterred by the alarm system would be deterred by the sign too.  I purchased a genuine alarm system sign off of eBay.  It didn’t matter.


You can tell from the video that the front of my house is very well lit, my backyard is also well lit by a high intensity LED flood light.  None of the lighting deterred the thieves, they ripped the light off the wall in the backyard, which was another few hundred to fix.  Oddly enough, my neighbor’s house is completely black and they skipped right past it, go figure.

Back Door

I had put in a new back door, with an elevated dead bolt so that you couldn’t reach it through the dog door.  I also mounted the door so that it opened outwards to prevent people from being able to kick it in.  What I hadn’t done (yet) was reinforce the window in the door, Bonnie and Clyde threw a paver through the window.  This cost me $350 and a full day of vacuuming, we’re still finding bits of tempered glass in the house.


I heard the sounds as soon as I opened the door to my car.  I *should* have called the police at that moment and put distance between me and them.  Instead, like an idiot, I opened the front door and peaked in.  Thankfully I didn’t get hurt and they took off when they heard my voice, but I had no idea if they were dangerous or not.

Changes I’ve made

There are two main changes I’ve made since the break-in.  I replaced the glass in the back door with double pane, double laminate glass.  This is similar to the glass in a car windshield, instead of shattering into a million pieces (like tempered glass), it’ll “spider” because the layer of plastic between the glass will keep the glass together.  Throwing a brick at this will break the glass but not allow entry to the home.  Even if the bad guy gets through the first pane, they will have to get through a second pane.
Here’s a random video from the internet comparing the two types of glass:
I’ve also installed an alarm system.  To be clear, I don’t think an alarm system will stop a break in.  What an alarm will do, is prevent my wife or I from walking in on a crime in progress.  I also think the alarm will limit the amount of time the burglars can spend in the house and protect us while we’re not in town.  There are some other advantages that aren’t security related that I’ll talk about in a future blog post about the alarm system I chose.  

Incandescent Free!

I’ve finally replaced the last incandescent lights in my house.  I’m running a mix of CFL, halogen and LED lights.  The last incandescents in my house were in a pair of lamps that used old school 3-way bulbs.  Changing these out were a real pain because you can’t get 3-way LED bulbs.  Thankfully, table lamps are all made out of pretty standard parts.  The solution was to swap out the 3-way “lamp holder socket” with a “dimmable lamp holder socket“.  This required a wire stripper, a screw driver, and about 10 minutes per light.

I’m going to be getting rid of the CFLs over time, LED bulbs are still more expensive but they look great.

All of the can lights in my house are LEDs made by CREE.  They’re silly expensive, but they look great and dim wonderfully.  I installed them when I did the big remodel so I didn’t really notice the price in the grand scheme of things.

The rest of the LEDs are all Phillips of varying wattage.  These bulbs are the closest to incandescent in color and warmth that I’ve found.

DIY Baking Steel

I’m going to deviate a bit from talking about home improvements….

I like pizza, I like cooking, therefore I decided I should try making pizza.  Specifically, I wanted to make a neapolitan style pizza like Tutta Bella.  Neapolitan pizzas have strict rules about how they can be made.  In particular, I like the crust on these pizzas.  They’re thin, gooey and delicious.

Making the crust on a Neapolitan pizza requires the use of only a handful of ingredients: Flour, Salt, Water and Yeast.  My favorite crust recipe is the Modernist Cuisine variant.  The hard part is that they need to be cooked in a wood fire oven.  This is not a post on how to build your own wood fire oven.  I’m determined, but not that determined!  Wood fire ovens get hot, really hot, 700+ degrees.  In a wood fired oven, the pizza cooks in less than three minutes.

Like I said, I didn’t build a wood fire oven, so I had to find another option.  Home ovens don’t get anywhere near hot enough.  To mimic the behavior of a wood fire oven you need to use something that can create even heat and quickly transfer the heat to the pizza.  Normally, people use a pizza stone to do this at home.  While looking into baking stones  I ran across the Modernist Cuisine pizza steel.  Modernist Cuisine does a lot of cool stuff, if I had a larger kitchen pantry and a bigger budget, I’d have all of the gadgets they recommend.  I think playing with an antigrill would be fun.

The folks at Modernist Cuisine recommend using a pizza steel over a stone because it works better.  If making your own seems like too much work, go to Amazon and buy one from them.

They sell theirs for $99, and it has their name engraved on it.  It’s pretty and made in the USA.

$99 seemed steep to me for something I’m not going to use all that often, I made my own for $49 ($45 in steel and $4 in supplies).

Update 7/2017: 
Since this blog post first launched, a lot of other people have started making baking steels. There are lots of options on Amazon. I think it’s going to be hard to beat the price to effort ratio of this one for example.

How to make a baking steel

I bought a 14″x16″x3/8″ steel plate from Eddie at Exor Ironworks.  Eddie ground the edges so that they’d be smooth.  He sold me the steel plate for $45.  If you don’t live in Seattle, find a local blacksmith and ask for an “A36 Steel Plate”.  A36 is the alloy.  Keep in mind that Steel has a weight of .284 pounds per cubic inch.  That means that my baking steel is nearly 24 lbs!


Eddie grinding the edges of my steel plate

The steel plate from your local blacksmith will be coated in a rust like material called “mill scale”.  Before you use the steel, you need to get the mill scale off.  The easiest way to do that is with white vinegar.


The steel plate comes dirty and coated in mill scale

I used an old storage container I had and submersed my plate for 48 hours in the bucket.  If you don’t have a bucket handy, a garbage bag will work just fine too.

Soaking in vinegar

After 48 hours in the vinegar soak, hit the plate with a garden hose and the gunk will come right off.  I scrubbed mine with baking soda to neutralize the vinegar (I’m pretty sure this is overkill), and then with soap and water to get any remaining gunk off.  The steel should be a nice light grey color at this point

Without the mill scale to protect it, the plate will start to rust.  Stick the plate in the oven at a high temperature to dry it quickly.
I did two plates at once, they’re in the oven to dry after the vinegar bath
Once the baking steel is thoroughly dry, you need to season it like you would with a cast iron or carbon steel pan.  If you want to learn more about seasoning cast iron, Sheryl Canter has the best post I’ve read.  I followed her instructions, use flax seed oil and apply three coats.  The seasoning will keep the pan from rusting.
My steel after three coats of flax seed oil seasoning
Congratulations!  You now have a ready to use baking steel!

How to use the baking steel

The key is to give the steel plenty of time to heat up.  I put my steel in the upper third of my oven then let the oven heat up at maximum temperature for 45 minutes.  I then run my broiler for 15 minutes, leading to an hour of preheat time.  Using this method, I’ve gotten my steel to 700 degrees.
Pizza on the steel, the steel was at 700 degrees when I measured it

To get the pizza on and off of the steel, you’re going to want a pizza peel.

How well does it work?

I very much have to work on my dough stretching skills but here are a pair of pictures from recent attempts.  I over cooked the pizza in the picture, but it was still delicious.
Love how the crust came out!


Round is overrated


Summary of Instructions for Making a Baking Steel

  1. Buy a 14″x16″x3/8″ A36 Steel Plate
  2. Soak plate in vinegar for 48 hours.
  3. Clean thoroughly
  4. Dry thoroughly in the oven
  5. Season steel
    1. Apply a thin coat of flax seed oil to all 6 edges
    2. Rub off as much as you can
    3. Place in oven at oven’s max temperature for an hour
    4. Allow to cool in oven
    5. Repeat three times

Wet Bar Revisited

My wet bar is mostly done at this point.  There were a few setbacks but nothing that money can’t solve.

The first issue we ran into was that the floor is very, very uneven in that corner of the basement.  On the order of a couple of inches drop over just over 12 feet.   This required a great deal of work to make the floor appear more level.

First, the contractors applied floor leveler.  Floor leveler is a special kind of underlayer that gets put down before actual flooring.  The leveler is put on the floor and flows till level (I’m simplifying but that’s the general idea).

After the floor was leveled, there was still a significant gap between one end of the bar and the other.  The cabinet installers compensated by shimming the cabinets at different levels.  They hid the shims behind the toe kick.  If you look closely at this picture, you can see how much  taller the toe kicks are on the left side of the photo than they are on the right.

These floor leveling problems lead to another problem.  After the cabinets were installed, the tile guys had to do another round of leveling so that they could install our large (24″x24″) tiles.  This meant that the dishwasher slot “lost” an inch of height on the right side, and half an inch on the left side.  This also meant that my KitchenAid dishwasher wouldn’t fit anymore.

The solution here was to buy a new dishwasher.  Standard dishwashers require a 34″ tall opening but thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, there exist ADA compliant dishwashers.  I don’t know the specifics as to why this is more accessible, but ADA compliant dishwashers are not as tall and have more options for adjustability.  Unfortunately, there are fewer options and only one American company makes one, GE sells a rebranded Danby as an ADA dishwasher.

To get a dishwasher that fit, I looked at Bosch, Asko and Miele.  Bosch has very long delivery times, and I didn’t like the way the racks worked in the Asko.  This lead me to get a Miele.  Unfortunately, this also cost me about $250 more.  The Miele only comes in a fully integrated model which means I had to buy a panel separately.  On the plus side, Miele makes nice dishwashers and it’ll still be super quiet which was a must.  I am disappointed that KitchenAid doesn’t make one.

Here’s a picture of the final wet bar:

Security Cameras

While remodeling the house I decided to add security cameras to the front.  There are two reasons I wanted to add them.

  1. I wanted the security deterrence.
  2. It’s really entertaining to see all of the activity at my door.
This cat visits my house fairly regularly.

The Cameras

Security cameras come in two flavors, analog cameras and network cameras.  I went with network cameras because I knew I wanted to monitor them digitally.  Analog cameras are cheaper but you need something to convert the image to a digital stream if you want to use software to muck with it.  Figuring that out wasn’t something I wanted to do so I stuck with the network cameras.
In my case, I wanted full coverage of my front entry way and my car port and I only wanted to use two cameras to do it.  As a result, I needed to go with cameras that had a wide angle of view.  In digital cameras you have two options for adjusting your angle of view, picking a wide angle lens and picking a higher resolution camera.  In my case I went with cameras that have 1920×1080 resolution as opposed to the standard 640×480 resolution.  
HD Image – Click for Full Screen
This picture demonstrates how much less you see with a low end IP camera:
640×480 is really small eh?
I tried out two different cameras when selecting, the Y-Cam Bullet HD 1080 and the Vivotek FD8362. The Y-Cam has terrible reviews on Amazon and it was clear to me that they were earned.  I found the camera to be pretty flaky, it wouldn’t keep a steady image stream and didn’t do as well in low light as the Vivotek does (the cat picture at the top is a night shot).  The Vivotek camera is great, it’s a lot more than the Y-Cam but it’s also a commercial grade camera, designed for this use case.  The dome style also meant that I could mount it less obtrusively.  The Vivotek was more money but it was well worth it.
The cameras are hard wired to my network and powered over ethernet.

The Software

I tried two different systems, ZoneMinder on Linux and Blue Iris on Windows.  ZoneMinder is free and seemed more configurable but I couldn’t get it to play as nicely with the cameras and configuring it was more painful and took longer while being less reliable.  For $50, Blue Iris is a steal.  

How well does it work?

Here’s a video of some solicitors coming to my house.  Make sure you set the video quality to 1080 to see the full quality.  The footage was shot in debug mode, so Blue Iris adds the red box where it sees movement.  

The quality of the video was good enough that I was able to play CSI:Seattle.  I zoomed in on the handout in the video:

I enlarged the handout in a photo editor
And I was able to match it to a handout from the Jehova’s Witnesses Website.  The coloring looks right and it’s pretty clear that there is a guy’s head on the left edge of the photo.

A JW flyer, I guess I should put up a “No Solicitors” sign 
The downside is the number of false alarms I get.  I’ve been playing with the settings on Blue Iris, but I still get the occasional false alarm when a cloud passes overhead or when a car drives by at night and the headlights reflect off of one of our cars.

Is this legal?

Funny you should ask, the answer is, it depends…  Also, I’m not a lawyer so this isn’t legal advice.  From what I understand, in Washington state, you are allowed to record public spaces when there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.  This means that the front of your property is ok, and it’s how Google Maps gets away with the street view images.
Google Street View of a random house
What probably wouldn’t be ok is putting a camera on your second floor and pointing it into the second floor of a neighbor’s house.  In my case, I have the cameras setup to capture the front of my house and only trigger when there is movement on my property.

Grilling inside

I haven’t posted in a while, we’ve been busy finishing the remodel and moving back in.  We’re still not done with either but we are back in our house which means I’ve been able to start playing with all of my new toys.

On the whole, I’m thrilled and I’ll be talking at length about all of the new gadgets, for now I thought I’d share a video of my range hood and range.

You may remember that I chose a Capital Culinarian as my range and a ModernAire hood for my ventilation.  Even with the investment in ventilation, I wasn’t expecting to be able to cook really greasy foods in doors, from what I had read this is just a limitation in indoor grilling.  But, I figured I’d test it before I gave up.

In order to test if I could grill greasy foods, I needed to find something greasy to cook.  I went to my local supermarket hoping to find something pre-made that would put my setup through its paces.  They didn’t disappoint.  I bought two burgers, a bacon cheddar burger and a blue cheese burger.  That’s right, this is ground beef with cheese and bacon mixed in.  Here’s a video of the range in action:

As you can see, the burgers produce a lot of smoke but the hood doesn’t care.  I even had grease fire flare ups and the hood didn’t care.  I’m extremely pleased with both of these appliances!
The hood is running at max speed (which wasn’t actually necessary, I turned it down later), this also kicked on the makeup air flap.  To replace the air that was pulled out of the house, a flap opened when the hood was on high and air was pulled into the furnace.