Kansas City Kansas

Three Years and Counting.

Three years and two days ago, Kristy and I left the comfort of Union Hill and moved into our Studio 804 home in Rosedale Kansas. At the time this was a rather big step considering that we had been living in Union Hill for 10 years and had invested quite a bit of time and money in making our former home truly ours. So here we are, a third of the way through the time spent in Union Hill, and Modular 4 has transitioned in some capacity to reflect us.

Over the last three years we have replaced the failing Stabiligrid driveway with concrete. A move that didn’t sit well with the KU graduate students in the Studio 804 project. Part of me agrees with them. We did alter the original green driveway solution for something more traditional. Most of me says we did the right thing though. The Stabiligrid solution had failed after just two years. The heavy rain and snow that fell in the first year we were in the house caused the Stabiligrid to sink into the earth below it creating a 12 inch deep trench at the end of the drive by the street. Other sections of the drive sank as well, although not as much. The fact that Kristy and I both drove Mini Coopers says something. The total weight of our cars combined weighed less than a full sized SUV. I can’t imagine where things would be if we had been driving full sized cars.

This year, the master bathroom was remodeled to a much higher standard. The plastic shower surrounds, and hardware were replaced with a floor to ceiling tile shower, and glass wall. All the shower hardware was replaced with Kohler’s Oblo line of fixtures. The cheap IKEA maedicine cabinets were replaced with a recessed Roburn unit. Even though this wasn’t a full remodel, the end result was amazing and raised the value of the home considerably. Small upgrades were made to the kitchen as well with a replacement of the sink, and faucet.

Over the last three years we have been doing some landscaping. What I have discovered is this. When the former homes on the block were leveled to make way for the current houses, they were literally bulldozed into the ground. When I dig in the yard to plant a tree, I remove about 50 pounds of construction debris. I have to dig a hole three times larger than normal, and back fill around the root ball if I want the tree to live. Out of the 6 trees planted in the last two years, two have died primarily because their roots were cooked as the debris retained heat during the hottest part of the summer, or because the debris impeded the root ball from spreading and taking hold. The yard and landscaping has been the toughest work. Grass won’t grow in certain areas, and as it dies Bermuda grass moves in and takes over. Trees have been difficult to get started, and the flower beds have been only about 75% established. This fall the plan is to bring in 10 yards of soil and create a berm in the front yard above the section that is so filled with brick, stone, tile, wood, and other house remnants. I’m hoping that the berm will create a barrier and allow ornamental grass, flowers, and small shrubs to take hold.

On another note, three weeks ago we were burglarized. I know the neighborhood is a bit sketchy. It’s still not as bad as Union Hill was when we first moved in, but the burglary opened our eyes to a number of things. Our house sits on a dead end street, next to a three acre field that is half covered with trees. It’s easy to stake out the house, and it was easy for them to break in. Since we didn’t have an alarm, all they had to do was throw a hammer through the sliding glass doors facing the field and walk on in. With that said, a high-end alarm is now in place, and video surveillance is going up on the outside of our home. It might not stop a break in, but it will hopefully deter one. If nothing else maybe the video system will help catch the next person that breaks into my home or one my neighbors. The cameras see up to 90 feet in the dark, and record HD video 24 hours a day.

I’m still amazed at where we are. I can sit on my back deck and catch deer sneaking into the field at dusk, and at the same time I am a 5 minute walk from the 39th street corridor and a 5 minute drive from downtown Kansas City. Our house is in many ways located in an urban oasis. I can’t say how long we will stay here, but I know we have another year to look forward to. There is another bath remodel coming, an entry railing, and front door remodel, more landscaping, a deck extension and perhaps a basement addition; all of which is being done in a way that maintains the architectural integrity of the house, and the vision that Studio 804 had when they designed and built it.


I Was Robbed

One of things that sucks about having your house broken into, is that your computer gets stolen. When your computer gets stolen, it means you have to update WordPress on your iPad. When you update WordPress on your iPad it means you have to use the virtual keyboard. When you use the virtual keyboard, your hand cramps. When your hand cramps you feel victimized all over again. Then you get angry and want to kick something.

I was burglarized, so updates and posts might come a little slower these days. Now I’m off to buy a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad.

The Time Warner Cable Saga Will Never End.

I am writing this post on my iPhone because my 3G signal is better than my internet connection through Time Warner Cable. This is the kind of thing that makes me insane, and makes me say I can’t wait until Google brings Fiber to KCK and I have an option to get a better internet connection, and hopefully dump Time Warner for good.

Right now, my internet connection is throttled by Time Warner to 768k downstream, and 128k up. Not ultra fast, but not great either. My issue is that with real world use, I average about 128k down and 56k up. That my friends sucks. We are talking the equivalent of dial-up speeds here, and the real kicker is Time Warner Cable tech support doesn’t believe me.

For the last three weeks I have talked to, Tweeted with, emailed, and direct messaged Time Warner tech support. I have done everything they asked, and given them the abysmal results of my internet throughput both wired and via WiFi. Each time they come back with the same response, “Things look good on our end, the problem is your system.” Sorry this isn’t much of an answer. If you have followed my blog, you are probably aware of the horrible experience I had with Time Warner’s TV service. At one point it was so bad that an area field supervisor came to my house to determine what was wrong. The problem wasn’t with my home connection, or the coaxial cable in my house. The problem was with the Time Warner Hub, and the last mile from the Hub to the neighborhood. At the time the supervisor wouldn’t actually say it. He would allude to it, he would tell me I could say it, but he admitted, he couldn’t say it. None the less that was the problem, and the solution was a simple one. Time Warner needed to upgrade the Hub to accommodate the volume of traffic that was using Roadrunner during peak hours.

I have no idea if the Hub was ever upgraded. I do know that between the hours of 7 and 9 in the morning, and between 5 and 10 in the evening, my internet connection, as well as all of my neighbors is pathetic. It is essentially dial-up speed.

What I do know is this. The impending Google Fiber Network for Kansas City, Kansas has been the talk of every person on my block for the last week. The idea of getting reliable service at a fair price has everyone excited. For the last two years, we ave all been clamoring for AT&T Uverse, but we aren’t scheduled to get it for another 18 months, so the Google initiative has all of us jumping for joy.

I have no idea what the pricing structure will be, or who the host carrier will be. I hope to hell it isn’t Time Warner. If it is, I know they will attempt to price gouge me, throttle my connection, and nickel and dime me for every thing they can tack an extra fee on. Google if you are listening, and I hope you are, please choose anyone but Time Warner Cable to partner with.

One final note. Time Warner’s tech support solution has repeatedly been that I need to upgrade my service, and buy more bandwidth. They refuse to send anyone out to look at the Hub for our neighborhood, check the last mile to our streets, or send a tech to my house to help determine if the problem is something that Time Warner can’t detect from a remote location.

Google Brings Gigabit Fiber to Kansas City Kansas!

OK, I am a little blown away by the announcement that Google is bringing gigabit fiber to Kansas City, Kansas. Actually I am ecstatic. This is a huge development for KCK. The fact that Google is going to roll out and test its high-speed gigabit fiber network here is huge, and the fact that they are going to provide it to everyone that lives in the city is outstanding.

We beat out over 1000 cities across the country to get this, and what it came down to was the city government, and the board of utilities.

“The wonderful diversity of our community, neighborhoods and industry make Kansas City, Kansas., a microcosm for the rest of the country. When you combine these assets with our well-established track record of development partnerships, we feel Kansas City, Kansas., is the perfect location for Google to launch its fiber project.”

Mayor/CEO of the Unified Government Joe Reardon.

Google plans to offer the service to KCK residents beginning in 2012, and will  be providing free access to schools and city facilities as the fiber network is deployed. There is no word on the pricing structure for residents yet, and frankly I don’t care. If it costs 100 bucks a month for gigabit internet access, as long as I never have to utter the words Time Warner Cable again.

According to Google, they will provide a 1 gigabit per second fiber straight to homes and businesses at a competitive price. That connection speed is up to be 100 times faster than almost all broadband connections connections.and about 100,000 times faster than Road Runner on a good day. One of Google’s goals is to improve Internet access by observing how communities transition from traditional broadband to ultra high-speed fiber optic connections. And Kansas City, Kansas is an ideal location to do just that.

“This project represents the future of how we connect to the Web, and we want it to start in Kansas City. It is a real honor for Google to be here, and we will work hard to deliver a service that will delight and empower this community to lead the nation forward in broadband.”

Milo Medin, vice president for Access Services at Google.

Rat Rods, Tatoos, Rock a Billy, and Gasoline. Greaserama 2010

This weekend marked the annual Labor Day festival known as Greaserama here in Kansas City. The event is held every year at the oldest continuously  operating drive in theater in America, the Boulevard Drive In, off Merriam Lane in the Rosedale neighborhood. This is the fourth year I have gone, and this was probably the biggest turn out for cars and people that I have seen. On a weather perfect Saturday evening I snapped 550 photos. Below are 110 of them.

All the images were shot on the Olympus EP1, with the 18 mm lens, and no flash. The images in the slide show have had the resolution dropped to make them easier to upload. If you would like to use any of the images, just shoot me an email and ask. I’ll send a high-res version to you.

One Year and Counting.

One year ago today, I moved into the new house after more than ten years in the Union Hill neighborhood. When I started this blog I was originally going to post exclusively about living in the new house and the change of moving to Kansas etc. but as I have said before that got boring pretty fast. In reality I probably could have written a daily post about some new experience or thing that was directly related to the home, but I’m just not that well-disciplined. Instead I have posted about everything under the sun with a pretty hefty focus on design issues. There have been numerous posts about our house, but it hasn’t been my main focus for some time now.

After one year I can say this, living in the Modular 4 house designed by Studio 804 has been pretty amazing, and very different from living in a traditional home. One reason is the movable interior walls. Over the last year I have re-arranged the walls four times. Another reason is the movable walls. In order for the walls to move, they have to be slightly elevated from the floor. The three-inch gap between the wall and the floor allows for light and sound to pass under them. Like anything you get used to it. When we first moved in, this was tough.

In addition to the movable walls, there is the enormous yard, and lot to the South. I haven’t had to mow a yard for ten years. My home in Union Hill was urban and had no real yard. The new house sits on a lot that is approximately 90 by 300 feet in size, and is surrounded to the south and west by a three acre field and woods. Because of this, in the last year I have seen more deer and other wild like than I have in a long time. The crazy thing is, I am less than five minutes walking time from the 39th street corridor and an urban center. Last October, when I was walking the dogs at 6 in the morning we encountered 15 deer in the backyard. That was never going to happen in Union Hill.

After one year, we have replaced the driveway, started landscaping, scheduled to have a patio built of the back deck, expanded the yard to the west by 30 feet, shoveled a ton of snow, mowed the lawn about 75 times, painted, had more house guests than we ever had at the Union Hill home, discovered the new neighborhood, met the fox, the groundhog, the deer, a bunch of stray cats and dogs, discovered that the field has about one billion insects in it during the summer, and made new friends in the neighborhood.

As we move forward this fall with projects around the house I’ll post on them, but like I said earlier the focus of the blog has changed a bit. Some about living in the house, more about other interesting stuff.

Studio 804’s Prescott Passive House, is Almost Finished.

Yesterday I stopped by the latest project from Studio 804 in Kansas City Kansas, the LEED certified Prescott house. After 5 months it is nearly complete and will be hosting an open house this Saturday, May 15th from 11:00 to 3:00.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Studio 804 here is the scoop. Studio 804 is a design/build program at the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Planning. In the students last semester, the students use the critical knowledge they have gained to design and build a single home. The program focuses on efforts to reclaim blighted areas within the urban core by creating structures that are affordable, aesthetically pleasing and consciously engaging the pre-existing context of the neighborhood.

This years project “The Prescott House”, is located in the Prescott neighborhood  of Kansas City Kansas at just south of 16th and Central. The Prescott house marks the sixth home in the studio 804 program, and is the first to receive LEED Platinum Certification.

The house looked amazing when we walked through it, even in its unfinished but close to done state. Amazing vaulted ceilings, burnt (shou sugi ban) Douglas Fir rain screen, paper stone counters, concrete stair treads faced with the same paper stone materials, pervious concrete drive. The house has a nice flow to it. The space is very open and light with ample glazing, and unrestricted movement through out. What I saw yesterday was still very much under construction, but I am sure it will be finished and ready to show by Saturday morning. And I can’t wait to see the finished house, staged with furniture from Retro Inferno.