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Family room upgrades and AV advice


While architects are known for producing high-concept designs that are impossible to live in, mass-produced subdivisions have their own quirks. I’ve previously mentioned the goofy peninsula in my kitchen that led me to search for a decent counter-depth fridge. I don’t recall if I also mentioned that the pantry has no light (or power) inside, or that what looks like terrific storage space above the cabinets is ruined by code-required fluourescent uplights that I never use.

Anyway, a lot of that stuff is all on the list for the contractor I’m finally going to hire, but some upgrades just require a credit card and a web browser.

The first upgrade to the family room was the Fuji print over the fireplace.

Second was the seating. 18 years ago, I bought a dark grey couch and chair from Ikea. The machine-washable covers are nice, and they’re sturdy enough that I could keep using them, but you tend to sink into them these days, requiring some effort to get back out (a real issue for my mom).

The problem with replacing them is the way the room is laid out; it’s 14 feet wide and 12 feet deep, but the far end is consumed by a gas fireplace and a deep storage niche, and the left half of the near end needs to be kept open to allow easy traffic flow into the kitchen and dining area. That leaves the right side, and the tiled hearth sticks out nearly two feet, effectively limiting the seating space to 10x6 feet.

I wanted an L-shaped sectional, but 99% of what’s on the market are huge. If they’re under 10 feet long, then they’re at least 8 feet deep, sometimes with a chaise section instead of a proper seat with back and armrest.

I finally found this at the local Ashley, and after very carefully measuring the space and the sectional, I decided it will work:

It’s a foot longer and nearly two feet deeper than the current couch/chair combo, but it does fit, and the small “chaise” extension basically takes up the space that’s currently an end table, so the traffic flow is unchanged. I’ve ordered a slide-under tray table to provide a place for drinks at that end, and the large comfy cushions compensate for the lack of an armrest. It should show up in about two weeks.

The only real downside is that the corner space between the couch and chair is where I currently have my liquor cabinet, and now I have to find a new place for about 70 bottles of booze.

Third was the TV stand. When I bought my first BluRay player and HD TV, 37 inches provided plenty of bang for the buck, but now I want something bigger, and because a wall-mount is impractical (the left side of the room has big windows), I need a new stand that’s wide enough for a 55-65-inch TV. Here the problem isn’t height, width, or depth, it’s the fact that most of what’s on the market is either too ugly or too dark for my mostly-blonde house. I eventually stumbled across this:

My Harmony hub has two IR blasters to reach the components behind the doors, and there’s plenty of space for the FireTV, Japanese PS2, etc. I’ll have to build some new shallow shelving for the discs that don’t fit into its drawers, but that’s not hard.

That should also arrive in about two weeks, and then I can start looking for a new TV. I’d prefer the least-Smart 4K TV I can find, because the vendors have a really poor track record regarding privacy and security. If I let it access the Internet at all, it will be on an isolated VLAN from the rest of the house. I haven’t looked seriously at what’s on the market right now, so suggestions are welcome.

After that comes the real fun: a new receiver and speakers. My old 5.1 surround system is a Kenwood VR-407, purchased way back when to drive my top-of-the-line laserdisc player. It’s held up surprisingly well, but yeah, it’s time. For the receiver, I’m thinking overkill, specifically the Denon AVRS940H Denon AVR-X3400H for its large and versatile set of inputs, and ability to upscale the analog inputs (which is why I crossed out the S940H; I’m going to look at some other decent brands to see if I can find something that doesn’t cost quite so much more). For speakers, honestly I haven’t a clue; the Kenwood came with a set.

Recommendations?

Mount Fuji at home


I’ve spent 18 years trying to figure out what sort of picture to hang above the mantel. Then I stumbled across this on Sunday, and it arrived today.

Seems kind of fitting to put a volcano on top of a fireplace.

Tangzhong dinner rolls


As part of the ongoing upgrades at home, I just replaced all my baking pans with the ones King Arthur Flour sells, and picked up a bunch of their nice parchment sheets as well. While I was at it, I saw that they had a recipe bundle for their version of the tangzhong ‘Hokkaido’ milk bread rolls.

Everything arrived yesterday, and I made a batch this morning, following their recipe, weighing the flour instead of using volume measurements for it. I used the bread machine to make the dough, then baked them in the supplied pan.

Was it good? Half the rolls didn’t survive long enough to cool down; I made little roast beef sandwiches out of two, and just ate the other two while catching up on email. Lunch just now was another little sandwich, since I stopped at the Morgan Hill Safeway on the way to the office (the closest one that has a Boar’s Head deli).

If I were having friends over, I’d have to make a double batch (at least!), which means pulling out the stand mixer.

Only negative? The recipe bundle promised a nice printed copy of the recipe. What arrived was a piece of cheap printer paper stapled to the receipt, printed in a small, thin font. Printing a copy yourself produces something far more useful for actually baking (in addition to giving you the option to use weight rather than volume).

Dear Monterey Bay Community Power,


A hearty “fuck you” to the people who decided it was acceptable to auto-enroll everyone into a scammy “green” energy plan, with the opt-out instructions printed in tinyfonts on the back of a postcard designed to be thrown away unread.

Bonus for charging people to opt out if they fail to read the postcard and don’t notice until they get their new bill (assuming they don’t pitch that, too, since it’s not from a company they knowingly do business with).

Aw, c’mon!


Seriously, Samsung? I pay three grand for a new fridge and I can’t put magnets on the door? Who doesn’t use fridge magnets?

7 inches of bliss…


One of the quirks of my house is that the kitchen “island” is angled to create more space in the breakfast nook. This means less space to get in and out of the kitchen, especially since the pantry door and the refrigerator are right there.

As part of my minor remodeling, I’m going to replace the 28-inch pantry door with closet doors that don’t open out so far, but that still leaves a bottleneck getting past the full-depth fridge. The solution to that problem turned up yesterday when I was browsing at Lowe’s: the first counter-depth fridge I’ve ever not hated.

It’s a good 7 inches shallower than my current one, which will make it much easier for multiple people to use my kitchen at once. The interior layout’s more sensible, too. Not cheap, but this is precisely the sort of thing I took some equity out of the house to buy.

Last time I was in a rush because the old fridge had died while I was out of town, so I took the best-looking thing Sears had in stock. Apart from a persistent fan noise that they could never get rid of, it’s served me pretty well for nearly 12 years.

I sort-of bought a new dishwasher as well (current one’s ~18 years old), but they won’t actually sell it to me until someone comes out and measures to make sure it will fit. I went with a high-end Bosch, largely for the promised noise reduction.

Update

Yes, the tech confirms that the industry-standard slot in my kitchen will fit an industry-standard-sized dishwasher. Now I can actually buy it and schedule the install.

Success!

As installed, the new fridge gives a full 8 inches more room to get in and out of the kitchen. Unfortunately, the stainless doors are non-magnetic, so I have to get some 3M clips to attach recipes, etc, to it. I can use the sides, but the space is limited.

A tale of three deliveries


The things you learn from Arlo:

3:00 PM, USPS: large box left in middle of porch, visible from street.

3:01 PM, ONTRAC: medium box left on top of first box.

4:28 PM, UPS: previous boxes moved out of sight from street, neatly restacked with new box.

Netgear Orbi from Costco


Just picked up the smaller Orbi bundle at Costco. This is the SKU they’ve added recently (RBK22-100NAS) that only has two units (“router” and “satellite”, both with ethernet backhaul); I didn’t really need a 3-pack of the original model, just one on each floor.

The hardest part of the setup was switching off the builtin NAT and running it in AP mode; you can’t do it from the iOS app. The second hardest was discovering that the app artificially limits you to short passwords; the web GUI will let you enter up to 63 characters, as expected for WPA2-PSK.

Preliminary results look good. I may tweak the placement of the units (I just grabbed the first available power and ethernet, since the old wireless is still running), and turn on the optional beamforming, etc. At the very least, I should get better performance on my front porch.

I figure it’ll take me a few days to find all my wireless devices and switch them over. :-)

Update

The optional beamforming is off by default for a reason. It apparently has disconnect issues.

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