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Building walls, building communties



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 Friday, 14 April 2006
Friday, 14 April 2006 21:45:32 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) ( )

The house rescue (post-flood) continues. "Flood" sounds so dramatic, though it is an accurate term I suppose. The water, had there been no carpets, would have been less than an inch deep. With the carpets and carpet pads wicking the water up though, walking around was a squishy experience...

So we ripped out almost all the carpet pad and got huge fans to dry the carpets. We saved two of four, though one of the carpets we saved is quite large, so that's a good thing!

My son's room lost two walls. They had paneling, and so didn't dry fast and mold got into the sheetrock behind the panels. Tearing that out was a mixed blessing - a lot of work to tear out and rebuild, but we discovered that the walls were woefully under-insulated. This explains why his room has always been cold in the winter...

(When I say under-insulated, I mean that the previous wall was put in by an amateur who doesn't understand things like physics. The wall was constructed using 2x2 boards as studs - directly against the concrete with no moisture barrier. Worse, they were on standard 16 inch centers, and between them was insulating foam. But that foam didn't stretch from stud to stud - noooo, instead there were 2-3 inch gaps where there was nothing between the sheetrock and the block wall. Not only does this mean there was no insulation, but there was no moisture barrier on an external wall - which is just plain dumb on both counts.

The new wall (which is basically done except for some plastering and painting) starts with a solid layer of foil-sheathed foam against the block wall. The foil is on both sides of the foam and we used foil tape to seal all gaps and seams. The foil is a moisture barrier of course, as well as a heat reflector. The foam itself is impervious to moisture as well, and provides insulation with an R10 rating. Then the wall itself is built within the foam. So it goes block wall, unbroken foam insulation barrier and a standard 2x4 wall with sheetrock facing.

The whole wall is less than 4 feet high, because our house is a split-level home. This is the height of the block in the lower level. So the actual structure of the house is built on the block, then this wall builds out inside the home from the bock. The result is a jog where the lower wall extends about 9 inches in from the upper wall. This is capped now with oak finishing plywood, and I'll put trim around that. The result is like a built-in bookshelf around two sides of the room - very nice!

We're in a race against time though, as the new carpet for the room comes Monday, and they'll restretch the two rooms where we saved the carpet as well. Unfortunately my office will be out of commission until early May, because the new carpet for that room is out of stock until the end of April. I'd be more concerned about that, except that I'm traveling quite a lot over the next couple weeks, so I wouldn't be able to use the office a whole lot anyway. The only drawback really, is that my "office" and "server room" are a corner of the upstairs living room, so it kind of intrudes on the normal family living space.

I grew up in a very rural and self-sufficient setting. As such, I grew up cutting and hauling firewood to heat our house in the winter, and I helped my Dad build the house we lived in, the garage and a few smaller sheds for equipment and firewood. In our previous house I tore out and rebuilt a section of the basement to make an office for myself. The point being, this isn’t the first time I’ve built a wall.

But it has been years since I last did anything like this. The closest was a couple years ago when I built a deck. While I don’t think I’d do this for a living (given a choice), this sort of thing is a lot of fun!

My normal job is entirely a mental exercise. Sure I type stuff into the computer, but that’s just to dump short-term memory into long-term storage (either as a computer program, a book, an article or whatever). The actual work is done entirely within the mind. And that’s fun too – but I’d forgotten how much fun it is to do something in the “real world”, where you actually see the results of your labor in a tangible way.

There’s also an odd community-based social aspect which I’d forgotten. Most people simply can’t (or won’t) comprehend what goes on with software design. The constant mental gyrations as objects and components are mentally simulated, connected, shifted, reconnected and discarded over and over again is very difficult to explain to a non-programmer. But people understand building physical stuff. I’ve had more conversations over the past week with random people at hardware and building supply stores. “What ‘cha building?” “A couple half-height walls” “Oh! That sounds like quite a project.”

Not that these are deep, philosophical conversations or anything. But they are conversations with people who are physically in my community – people with whom I’m making eye contact as we speak. Normally my “community” is a truly global network of friends and colleagues, and when we “speak” it is through email or IM. And that’s OK – in fact I love it! But I’ve rediscovered over the past week that my e-community can’t entirely replace having even somewhat shallow dialogs with warm-blooded members of my physical community. Both are important.

I type all this having just finished reading True Names, which is titled after the Vernor Vinge novella it contains. But over half the book is a collection of essays from the mid-1990’s. Essays from the thought leaders of the time – the people who were driving and shaping and predicting and warning about the Internet and what it could or would become. Some of the essays sound like they were written by libertarian crackpots (because they were), others contain thoughts and warnings that are valid to this day. All in all, a book totally worth reading, if only to compare the future these people were predicting to the reality of today.

One of the thematic predictions in the essays was how the Internet would change our view of community, if not society and even nationhood. Certainly in 10 years many of the predictions on community have come true – at least for people like me who travel the world both through the Internet and in person. Whether the predictions are true at a societal level is debatable, and certainly the predictions about the fall of nations due to the rise of electronic communities has proven false – or at least so premature that it is impossible to detect such changes.

Instead, it would appear that (perhaps as a knee-jerk reaction to globalization) nationalism is undergoing a resurgence. People are clinging almost desperately to non-electronic identities of nation/state, religion or ethnic origin. They are clinging so desperately that they have no problems with killing people who are different (in the Middle-east, Africa, and elsewhere) or at the very least striving to use government to strip away the rights of people who are different (primarily in the US) from their chosen “community”.

But even at the community level the transformation has been spotty at best. Much of my and my wife’s extended family live in rural Minnesota to this day. And precious few of them, or their friends or neighbors live “on-line”. If they use the Internet it is to buy things and to keep in touch with “real-world” friends. The Internet reinforces their physical community, it doesn’t provide a new community – certainly not the way it does for me or my wife.

You might consider that it is a rural vs. city thing. But that’s not true either. My neighbors are generally blue-collar or small business owners: construction, police, interior design, crafts and framing. They all have a computer in their home (or even two), but they use the computers as tools for work and to keep in touch with family and pre-existing friends. Again, the Internet reinforces their physical community, but doesn’t provide an alternative or new community.

Perhaps this will change over time. Reading various articles it is clear that the media believes that the next generation (Y?) is far more Internet-savvy and far more inter-connected. Yet those same articles tend to indicate that today’s teens use the Internet to IM mostly with others in their physical community (schoolmates, relatives, etc.). In other words, following much the same pattern of using the Internet to reinforce their physical community rather than building a new community.

The exceptions then, appear to be in the areas of strong special interests. Fringe groups so to speak. These include computer professionals (a natural fit), non-mainstream religious perspectives (and parodies thereof) and political extremists of many sorts.

Whether such e-communities spread into the mainstream remains to be seen, even 10 years into the “Internet revolution”. And my re-discovery of the value of real-world, physical community makes me question the amount of time and effort I’ve put into my e-self over the past few years. While I truly value my e-self and how I integrate into a global community, perhaps I need to put some serious energy into my physical self and my spatial community as well.

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