DIY Quandries

If you’re not into DIY then there’s no need to continue reading. This post is mainly for people googling for particular problems so that I can share a bit of hard-found knowledge!

Over the past year or so I’ve been renovating a house. It’s pretty much done but there’s lots of DIY issues that are new to me. Googling them didn’t get me anywhere, all you often find is a ton of scare stories.

Of course, the best advice is to go to a professional. If you want to try this at home, don’t blame me when you flood the place. With that in mind, here are a list of the DIY puzzles I’ve come across recently. 

Shower running hot and cold

This is commonly caused by a broken shower thermostat, which would be obvious because the other hot taps in the house run fine. If they also ran hot and cold, it would be a boiler issue, and that’s what’s happened in my case. I recently switched from gas cylinders to a bulk storage tank and apparently the plumber didn’t re-calibrate the boiler (or whatever it is they need to do). The boiler is cutting itself out as a safety precaution.

Pressure for the central heating loop dropping frequently

I had a leak in the system. I went round all the radiators, checked the pipes coming out of the floor for any leaking water, found one that was damp, and tightened it. Then open the inlet tap to re-pressurise the system and bleed all the radiators.

Lots of black smoke coming out of the car exhaust and juddery power

This was caused by a split in the intercooler pipe. It’s a very common fault and causes a lot of black smoke, poor performance and juddery power at about 2000RPM. The cost to have it replaced professionally is about £100, in my case, I bought a £25 replacement from ebay and fitted it myself in an hour. Another common cause on my car (Ford Mondeo) is a blocked-up EGR valve but that wasn’t the case here. My fuel consumption went from 35MPG to 50!

I got a good description of the problem and how to fix it from this forum thread.

Mould/damp on a particular wall

I assumed there was damp coming through from outside but this wasn’t the case. I had a lot of condensation which was causing it. I ventilated the place properly, kept it properly heated (the room was usually cold beforehand), treated the area with anti-fungal spray, repainted and that seems to have permanently sorted it! The main thing to remember is ventilation. I moved furniture away from the area so air could get to it.


Fun is Justification Enough

Today I watched a TED talk by a Korean author called Young-ha Kim and he was discussing the artist inside all of us. He mentioned concepts like a father playing with his children’s toys and finishing the Lego castle long after the child had become bored. Most of us have suppressed our artistic interests in favour of all the serious stuff in our lives… if it doesn’t make money then it isn’t worthwhile.

He also talked about the concept of the “artistic devil” – the notion that when you have an idea, you’ll pause and think about it for long enough that doubts start to creep in. The artistic devil is the voice inside our heads that provides the hundreds of reasons not to do something: there’s more important things to do, it’s a lame idea, people will laugh at you, EastEnders is on.

Although he was talking about art and specifically creative writing, there are so many parallels with software development that it’s unreal. It struck me straight away and held true throughout the talk.

We can earn a good living in this industry but we have so many opportunities to be creative. Indeed, developers are often very creative and get involved in open source and other types of community projects. But it’s hard to take those first steps…putting yourself in the public spotlight and subjecting yourself to scrutiny is difficult, as though it’s going to be a massive weakness to be “wrong”. There’ll always be people around to criticise. I am always coming up with project ideas but almost every time I’ll sit on it and think about it and come up with so many reasons to not go through with it. But if it’s a bit crap, who cares? The point is to do it because it’s fun.

I was writing a stack overflow question today. It’s actually the first one I’ve composed. I typed it out, thought about it, created a jsfiddle, thought about it some more, reworded it, and couldn’t help but think that I shouldn’t need to ask for help.

But actually, even engaging with a community like stack overflow can be a creative endeavour. Thinking carefully about how to form a question takes skill and the process can be fun. And of course, if I am stuck with a problem, someone else will be.

As Young-ha Kim points out, we’re all born artists. It’s obvious when you see your kids drawing on the walls with their crayons or building a sandcastle that will inevitably be washed away. There doesn’t need to be a point.

I’m going to start work on a little project of my own. It’s got nothing to do with work, it’s not going to make me rich, it might be bad art. It’s taken me a long time to realize that as long as I enjoy sitting writing the code, that’s the only justification I need. Anything else is a bonus.