Monday, March 25, 2013

KnifeCatching 715 Grand St.

Read This:The following review is just my opinion and only my opinion I am not a professional house appraiser or inspector and I am not a structural engineer. The opinions expressed in this review are based on my own inspection of the property, the publicly available facts from aggregator sites such as Redfin and Zillow and the online permit database for the city of Alameda. I am not responsible for incorrect or missing data that appears in these sources. In fact, its probably best that you just ignore everything you read here as the lunatic ravings of an unbalanced mind.

KnifeCatching 715 Grand St.
Up for review today is 715 Grand St. which has the official specs of being a 4-2.5 of 3,081 sq ft on a 7,500sq ft lot built in 1920 listed for the low low price of $1.22M last sold in '06 for 1.38M. The redfin page can be viewed here.

This house was last on the market about a year ago for the same price and it did not sell. What do you want to bet it sells this time? They might even break even on the 'peak price' they paid.

What The Permit Record Tells Me
New roof in '06!
Some remodeling done with permits! Hurray!
A perimeter drain and sump pump was installed in the basement.
The current owners have not offically made any improvements to the house.

A Small Tour
Sorry, the batteries in my camera died on me half way through but the RedFin page has tons of pics.
Man, I haven't done this in a while, my 'photograph the important features' muscle is a little weak...
So in no particular sensible order....

The Master Bedroom
This is a really good sized room with like a sitting/reading room.

Master Closet
 Its a little cramped in there...

Master Bath
Nice natural light from the sky light.
This is a pretty big room..but there's no tub?

Kids Bath
Love that tile on the floor....not.
But at least you don't have to share a bath with your teenagers.

Kids Bedroom 1
I thought this was a reasonable size with a decent sized closet.

Kids Bedroom 2
 This is also a good sized room.
Around the corner you have this little room.
Sorta two rooms in one?

Little half bath on the main floor.
Sorry, but, fugly tile.

 Long and skinny, good luck getting a modern car in there

The driveway also seems VERY skinny to me...You are definitely not getting your Cadillac Land Destroyer in there. Does this house only have off street parking?

Okay, here is one problem that I see...They converted part of the garage into a home office.
I don't see this anywhere on the permit record...In Alameda this is a big no no.

Super Cool Outdoor Party Spot
 This is my fav part of the house, the backyard and this party spot. This would be such a great place to have a 4th of July party. Sit on your front lawn with all your friends to watch the parade go by and then retire to the backyard to BBQ.

This is a cool little feature too. Not sure what it was originally. Maybe a summer kitchen? A canning kitchen? Stock those cabinets with party supplies, put in a fridge and natural gas grill and you'd be ready to paaar-tay!

I'd eat my hat if that doesn't test positive for Asbestos.

The Good
Location, location, location! A short walk to Franklin Park-School and a short walk to the beach in the Gold Coast 'hood.
A good sized house for a family with 2 kids (but no more) with generous sized public rooms and reasonable sized bedrooms, especially the master.
Super awesome backyard that could be BBQ party central.
New Roof!
The overall condition of the house looks pretty good.
A good sized basement for storage.

The Bad
Location...its on one of the busiest streets in Alameda.
Some of the house looks a little dated. The tiles in the bathrooms and kitchen look pretty awful to me.
The kitchen is kinda tiny.
The monster forced air unit needs to be replaced and you're going to have to deal with Asbestos covered ducting.
The possible illegal partial conversion of the garage into a home office. The Alameda Building Dept. really does not like the conversion of garages into anything else and they could very well force the new owner to rip out all that stuff and convert it back to all garage.
Some knob and tube.
A mixture of copper and galv water piping.

To bring this house up to the standard of the neighborhood it will need some refreshing.
The kitchen will need to be remodeled and expanded. ~100k for a high end major remodel.
The kids bath needs a remodel ~50k for a high end remodel.
The parents bath too ~50k for a high end remodel.
Replace old furnace with new high efficiency unit and deal with Asbestos. ~20k.
That's over $200k in remodeling costs....for a $1.22M house....
That personally seems nuts to me....I'm not saying, 'Don't buy this house.'
What I am saying is, as you go in with your waaaaaaaay over asking offer, be aware of exactly the size of the hole you are digging for yourself.
Go in with your eyes open.

But Wait, There's MoreThrough the blog I've been approached by several strangers to review houses for them that they were seriously interested in. So, I've done a couple of 'private reviews' on a commission basis. If you think something like that might interest you please contact me through the email link in my profile.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Crazy Alameda Real Estate

Let's talk serious about the state of Alameda Real Estate.
I mean, what the hecks going on?

Crazy Micro-Bubble 
I've been talking to several families looking to buy a house in Alameda. They keep getting shut out of the bidding. One recent sale went famously for $100k over asking!
There are just basically no houses on the market. In all of Alameda there are less than 30 houses on the market.
From talking to people here's what I believe is happening, its a bit of a perfect storm for Alameda real estate.
Very low inventory, very low interest rates and wealthy-ish folks coming over from Frisco to buy houses in Alameda.
I spoke with one wealthy-ish family and they were 0-24 in bidding on houses in Frisco! They are fed up with the situation there and came to Alameda where their real estate bucks would go farther.
I believe that they are not the only people in that situation.
Alameda used to be sorta a 'hidden gem' but its been discovered by wealthy-ish folks who would normally want to live in Frisco.

How You Can Get a House in Alameda
From talking to several Realtors here's what I think you have to do to score a house in this're not going to like it.

First, this is not the market for 'first time home buyers'. Sorry guys but you're screwed. FTHB's in my experience just don't have the ability to make a quick decision and that's what you're going to have to do in our current market.

Second, have a VERY clear and FIRM idea of the type of house you want and what areas are acceptable to you.

Third, have all your ducks in a row. Be pre-approved for a loan, have a big fat wad of cash ready to go for a down payment.

Fourth, Have a Realtor that is worth their salt. Your Realtor should know every house on the island that's for sale that fits your requirements. They should have their ear to the ground for houses that will be on the market in the near future. This last one is the most important because I think that there are only two ways to get a house in Alameda.
1. Make a 'pre-emptive' offer on a house that is not yet officially on the market.
2. Your agent should be taking you to the brokers open to any house you're interested in and you should make an offer right then and there.

If you're very lucky the home owner will decide that your offer is better than the hassle of having open houses and waiting. Even in these scenarios you will have to offer over asking.

How Come You Haven't Done A Knife Catching Review In A While
1. Haven't been many interesting houses on the market recently. Or any houses really.
2. Houses are selling too fast! I'd have to go to the brokers open to tour the place and take my pictures. Think I'd be welcome there? Me and a house FULL of Realtors? The phrase 'Tar and Feathered' comes to mind.
3. I've been busy with other stuff. The usual picture filled review takes me at least 3 hours to put together.

But don't worry, I'm getting the sense that the micro-bubble we're in is going to start bringing out the charlatans and hustlers again....

But Wait, There's More
Through the blog I've been approached by several strangers to review houses for them that they were seriously interested in. So, I've done a couple of 'private reviews' on a commission basis. If you think something like that might interest you please contact me through the email link in my profile.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Finally! Some Design Sketches!

I am going to blame the goofines of this post on the fact that I had a 'Please God Shoot Me' migraine and am still under the influence of the migrane meds.

That being said, here we go.

Solyndra Art Project Design Sketches

Idea #1
I remembered this picture of a fossil proto-bird.
Recreate the skeleton using metal and hammer-form the skull, large bones...give it an honest 3-D bone shape. It will be about 6' tall and free standing on a pedastal.
I'm thinking that the solyndra tubes could work as the wings in the bones.

Maybe it could look a little like this.
I really apologize for my horrible photo-shop skills...(wait til you see my sketching by hand skills).
The purple lines are the tubes and the red lines would be red EL wire outlining the statue at night with maybe a couple of red LED spots uplighting the statue.
To catch reasonable light the statue would have to be aligned so the tubes faced south.
At night it would look reasonably demonic all lit in red.

Idea #2
Tubes As Roots
In this idea the 'plant' is made with copper and maybe the tubes could look like the roots.
Inside each flower will be three yellow random flicker LEDs and a small spray of fiber-optics.

Idea #3
Tubes as Stamen..
Baby Madmadscientists favorite flower is the stargazer lily.

A real lily looks like this.

My impossibly horrible sketch looks something like this.
In this idea it would be one HUGE flower with the Solyndra tubes acting as the stamen..or pistles I forget which is which. On the end of the stamen where the large glop of pollen goes I want to remake it with crackle plastic and three flickering LED's.
In this idea only the ends of the stamen light you think it needs more lighting?

I've got four more ideas that I'll save for a later post. We'll see how the reaction to this one turns out.

Need An Idea
I want to do a scultpure that is kinetic. The tubes power a DC motor and the thing moves when the sun is out....cept I have no idea what to do...Anybody got any ideas?

Please be kind, I am baring my soul a bit here...well my heavily medicated soul.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Solyndra Art Project Part 5

The one where I say, 'How many dang parts are there going to be in this series?'

FINALLY bought some more Solyndra tubes! As it turns out, the guy I'm buying them from also bought a ton of spare tubes. He is in fact, not taking apart panels to sell the tubes...Which means I'm going to have to figure out how to safely and weatherproof-ly mechanically and electrically connect to these fragile things....

But first, another exciting shot of my home made Solyndra tube array now with 4 more tubes!
Scintillating isn't it? What is exciting is that the battery was so discharged after several overcast days that the SCC would not turn on the load at night. But today, a bright sunny day, by 1pm the SCC was reading the battery as fully charged! Yahoo!!!

Here's what the outputs from the array and Power Supply(PS) were showing.
That 13.71V output from the PS is sure better than the previous best of 12.6V.
Yet the array is still being pulled down to 58V?

Lets check the current
.335A not bad the array is outputting (.335A)(58V)=19.43W that's an increase from the previous reading of 12.6W.

But what's the Power Supply output?
Wow, 1.36A and 14.99V, that's a power of 20.34W!!!
So, apparently I've discovered a 'over-unity' device....Because somehow the output of the PS is more than the output of the array, even though the PS is only ~78% efficient...

Gotta be measurement error. The black DVM is a super cheapo model.

What's It Mean?
I think it means that 14 tubes is the magic number to keep a 12V 7.5AH battery charged even with a ridiculously large load....of course this is in this 'most ideal' setting.....
If these tubes get used in an art piece they will be a part of the sculpture...not sitting off to the side in a rack...that means much less output from the array.

Of course, I will not be having such a ridiculously large night time load on the sculpture....So, maybe I can get away with 14 tubes..but I think I'll up it to 16 and call it good.

Up Next
Sketches of ideas for what I'm going to do with all this stuff.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Solyndra Art Project Part 4

Now Even Shinier!

Well, I screwed up, forgot about daylight freaking savings time and blew my appointment to get more tubes. So I decided to do what I had already planned to do, namely, build a rack for em.

Voila, The Rack
I took an old piece of wood left over from the 'trashed organ debacle'.
I drilled 1 1/4" holes down the center and then sawed it in half with my skill saw..this would of been a much better job for a table saw...
Screwed the sides together with some fancy pocket screws and voila, my home made Solyndra tube rack.

Collecting More Sunlight
Since the tubes can collect sunlight from 360 deg through the cylindrical axis I decided to staple up some Aluminum foil to the underside (shiny side up).

Benchmark Measurements
Measurements taken with the orig set up.
I had charged up the battery with a charger the day before so it was completely charged.

With the SCC in float mode the numbers looked like this.
That's a whopping 6.4W

Then with the SCC switched on powering the EL wire load.
That's a slightly better 8.98W.

New Experimental Set Up
See, SHINY! I tilted the array towards due South by like 10 deg.

As you can see there is more light hitting the tubes now.

Repeating the same measurements as above we have;

SCC In Float Mode
That's 6.84W.

EL Wire Load
That's 9.1W.

What Do These Numbers Mean
I have no idea.....
I guess I could say that I increased the arrays ability to supply power. The voltage dropped less under load than the previous setup.
I was expecting 'more' though, I mean, I've definitely increased the amount of sunlight hitting the tubes...

Big Load Test
Just for fun I hooked up a reel of LED's. This represents a 36W load.
The array output drops to 55V with .229A for a power of  12.6W.
That's actually a big improvement over the previous numbers of 52V and .152A for a power of 7.9W.

I think that this means that I have increased the arrays ability to supply power with the new set up.
It's still not enough though...I will hopefully be acquiring more tubes this week.
My plan is to add pairs of tubes until I can get the PS output to at least 14V under load.

I'm going to leave the big load on and set the SCC to power it for two hours every night and then see what happens.

Well, after running the 36W load for two hrs last night and having a very overcast morning the battery was fully charged by 2pm. I think that's a good sign. I think it means that I don't have to add any more tubes to make this work with that ridiculously large load.
Of course, that's with the tubes in the 'perfect' position...which is completely not the point of this exercise. I want the tubes to be an integral part of the art piece.....
Though with the LED's I'm planning on using I'd have to use 900 of them to get the same load as above....that's probably not going to happen.
I also realized that if I were to use a 6V battery instead of the 12V that all of these charging issues would go away...unfortunately I can not find a 6V SCC....

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Solyndra Art Project Part 3

The one where I go, 'How many of these freaking tubes is it going to take?'

Okay, its a bright sunny day, I added two more tubes for a total of ten tubes, five sets of 2 in a series parallel combination.

Short Circuit Current
Looks pretty good. With the open circuit voltage of 234V that gives me a power of;
P=IV = (234V)(.143A)=33.46W not bad I'm thinking.

With the PS hooked up but no load the numbers look like this.
That's 15.17V on the output of the PS and the array voltage drops to 229VDC.

In the same situation the current is
.0118A Does this itty-bitty current make sense?

If I hook up the SCC the numbers do this....
That's not good I think...The current jumps up to .152A and the array voltage drops to 52VDC.

At the same time the output of the PS is.
What I think this means is that the PS is off and I'm just reading the battery voltage. The power supply has a low VDC cutoff of 127V anything less than this and it shuts off I believe.

To test that somehow the PS was still working at ~50V I unplugged the array from the PS and plugged it into AC mains and got this.
This is with the SCC hooked the PS has no problem running the SCC when its hooked up to AC.

I think this means that the ten tubes are not enough and can not supply enough current to run the SCC. I realized too late that I should of tested the current running to the SCC when the PS was powered by the AC mains. Then I would know how much power it was using.

How Many Freaking Tubes Am I Going To Need?
Apparently ten is not enough...

I disconnected the SCC from the PS and plugged in a 12V 20W halogen light. It would not stay lit. It pulsed. Does anybody have any idea why?

The PS is 75% efficient which means it should have (.75)(33.46W)=25.09W shouldn't that be enough to power a 20W light?

Though, I believe that switching power supplies don't like certain types of loads? When I hooked up a switching power supply to a windshield wiper motor the same thing happened. It pulsed the motor and would not stay on.

I would love any pointers in figuring out how many tubes I'm going to need to do this. It better not be like 20....maybe this is why Solyndra went out of business?

Now I realized the tubes are flat on a table so possible not capturing as much sunlight as possible but still....Arrrrrrgh!

Good News?
I finally figured out the SCC. Turns out if I just did the opposite of what the manual said it worked!
And, I don't need the dark detector! Hurray one last thing.
Now the SCC turns on the load for 4 hours after it gets dark!
Hurray, one goodish thing...

I just realized that there is a logic bomb in my above analysis of the data.
It would be a impossibly bad Solar Charge Controller that let the battery back feed the solar array.
I believe that the  12.65V output of the PS is actually what the PS is outputting.
That the 120VDC min is for the PS to output its rated power.
So at 50V input it outputs 12.65V.
This is slightly encouraging as now I can just add pairs of tubes until the output is say 14V, that should be enough to keep the battery charged no?
Still have to figure out how many tubes I will need to do this.....

Friday, March 1, 2013

Solyndra Art Project Part 2

Proof of Concept-Engineering Prototype

Check out my super hi-tec experimenters set-up below.

Yep, that's a shipping pallet and saw horses.

If you like that you'll love how I made the electrical connections.

Yep zip ties and a mish-mash of wiring.
For now I've decided that I will use 8 tubes. Four pairs in parallel of two tubes in series.

Open circuit that gives me.


So with P=IV that's a whopping....25.86Watts...hmmmmm

I've recently learned that switching power supplies can take DC input? Who knew?
Ordered a 15V output unit from Jameco.
Here it is hooked up to the array and generating a useful voltage.

When the array is loaded down with just the power supply the voltage drops to.
The power supply is connected to a nifty solar charge controller, also from Jameco.
Besides the manual being written in some fierce Chinglish its pretty awesome.
It monitors the battery so it won't overcharge, or undercharge. When the battery is fully charged
it converts to a float charger. You can also power something off the controller while the battery is charging. It has a built-in timer which is going to be really handy for this crazy idea.
Once the sun goes down you can set it to power the output for a set amount of time!
The only problem with this output is that it appears to be 'on' all day also...I don't want the lights
on the art piece to be on all day only for several hours after it gets dark.

Here's a closer up shot of all the widgets.
That grey thing next to the SCC is my solution to the always on problem.
Its a photocell switch powered by 12V. It turns on when it gets dark and allows current to flow
to the load.

The load
Just for now I have the set up powering an old bit of El-wire. It glows very brightly during the night.

One thing I have to say about these Solyndra tubes...they are SUPER ITALIAN! As in VERY FRAGILE!
I've already broken two....
So know I'm just going to let this thing run for a couple of days and see what happens. I don't have a lot of confidence that I have the controls set correctly on the SCC....stupid Chinglish.

What kind of electrical connectors are those and where can I get some?

I'm not sure how many pairs of tubes I'll need to pull this off. I'm not sure how a switching power supply works. I believe that some DC-DC converters take a higher voltage at a certain current and can down convert it into a lower voltage with a higher current. Is that's whats happening here? If not, I don't see how I'm going to get any useful power from 111mA...

When I hook up the SCC to the PS the array voltage swings all over the place...could be a sign of not enough current? Would it be possible to connect some 'boost caps' to the PS input?

And finally, what in the heck am I going to do with these things after I solve the electrical engineering problems???