Sunday, December 30, 2007

how do you build a 500 year house?

We closed on the house and are now immersed in choosing a fridge and tiles for the kitchen and figuring out what work we can do on it with a very limited budget. All of which got me sidetracked thinking about building for the ages.

Suppose you wanted to build a house, in Southern California, that would last for 500 years. How would you do it? You can't use wood--the termites would eat it. Metal's likely to corrode. The materials that seem to stick around for 500 years are things like stone and maybe brick. (Nijo Castle is a brick structure that's around 500 years old.) But SoCal is an earthquake-prone area. Over a 500 year span a serious earthquake will occur, and stone and brick seem rather brittle. I wonder how durable flexible concrete is.

Also, how do you handle the mechanicals? For example, what do you use for plumbing? Clay pipes, maybe? And what about power? The grid might not even exist any more in 500 years. You could use solar, but then you're faced with power storage problems so the lights stay on at night, and batteries wear out pretty quickly.

Also, what about heat? Passive solar? Or fireplaces (and buy a whole lot of wood to keep yourself warm)? And for sewer, would it be septic, municipal, or some combination of both?

One approach might be to put most or all of the mechanical systems in a foundation and then build the rest of the house out of more flexible materials like wood. There are pagodas in Japan that have been around for 500 years, but they get rebuilt every 20 years to the same plans. Putting the complex stuff in the foundation might make the rest of the structure much less expensive to replace, to the point where you (and future generations) could afford to do it periodically.

Maybe the most successful approach would be to be famous enough that for the next 500 years people are interested in keeping your house around regardless of how you built it. That's kind of cheating, though, since if it's a museum it's no longer being used as a house.

Overall, a 500 year house is an interesting thought experiment.

Monday, December 24, 2007

the down payment

We've been house hunting for a few months now. We finally found one we really like, but buying it's a stretch. Not a dangerous stretch, but a stretch nonetheless. I just got a reminder of that fact this morning when I wired the down payment to escrow. We saved that money and built it up over something like ten years, and in the blink of a fax the vast majority of it's going to go poof.

That'll take some getting used to.

In any case, if all goes well, we close on the 26th, or the 27th at the latest. Wish us luck!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

blog reviews

Don't blog about your work. That's the rule. Blogging about work is a bad scene, especially if your co-workers clue in to the fact you have a blog. So I've been avoiding writing about work. Trouble is, the last couple months work's about all I've been doing. Except buying a house, which I'll probably get to in a post or two.

But in the meantime, here's a review of some favorite other blogs. These are the ones I tend to read pretty consistently even when life is crazy, sort of a core list.

Making it Up As I Go Along. A good friend writes it. It's a good way to stay in touch.

Schneier on Security
. All sorts of security stuff--mostly computer- and network-security, but sometimes you'll see stuff like the scandal a few years ago when people figured out how to pick a kryptonite lock using a ball-point pen.

Inky Circus. A totally rockin' science blog. They comb the web for fun science-related stuff and present it in a wonderfully irreverent way. Not fun science-related stuff as in the latest news about brane theory. Fun science-related stuff like DNA-shaped dog chew-toys and using hamburger shrinkage to measure done-ness.

Long Views. The blog of the Long Now foundation. These folks are planning to build a clock that will run for 10,000 years, chiming every millennium or so and, far more interesting to me, a library that'll last equally as long.

Unreasonable Rocket. A father/son team is building a rocket. More precisely, they're building a lander to compete in the X-Prize Cup Lunar Lander Challenge. How cool is that?

There are several others blogs I follow, but on most of them the traffic's too high, so they get dropped off the list as my free time decreases. Unfortunately, I rarely have time for a 50-entry blogroll like the A list boggers do.