Sunday, July 24, 2016

Handyman's Work around the House

While Nicholas is away at Duke summer camp, Lily and I go to exercise together in the mornings - swimming or running, since I don't have to come home early to cook for him. We also have time to take on a few small projects around the house.

The planned main projects include re-caulk the master bedroom shower stall, reseal our granite kitchen counter and back-splash, build home defense against bugs around the perimeter of the house, fix another leaking outdoor faucet. Despite the plan, we did not take actions until some external impetus prompted us.


The last time we caulked the master bedroom shower booth was over ten years ago, The reason we wanted to re caulk it is that some portion of the caulking became dark. We kept pushing it off until a co-worker mentioned that the darkened caulking was an indication of molding behind the wall per his experience. We started the process right away that evening: stop using the shower to let the booth dry for a couple of days, remove darkened caulking (found no mold behind the caulking) and let the whole thing dry for a couple more days.

It took us about 2 hours to re caulk the shower booth. To make the caulking look nice, we used a trick I learned from somewhere - apply caulk to the targeted area and then use a slab with rounded front or coin like object to whip  through the caulk.

Sealant to Granite Counter

This is a straight forward easy job! Clean the counter, let it dry and then apply the sealant.

The  drama was that when Lily sprayed the sealant to the back splash, she sprayed it into a power outlet  which caused the circuit around the stoves not working. It won't work even though GFCI breakers were all reset. Per past experience, she knew all she had to do was to wait for the sealant to evaporate from the plug's wires. We waited for a couple days, the circuit still did not come back to work, she was worried and was talking about hiring an electrician to fix it. Fortunately a few hours later that evening, the circuit was back on!

Lesson learnt - 1) for GFCI type of circuit break, wait for water/oil/sealant to dry/evaporate, no need to hire electrician; 2) cover the power outlet before spray anything near it.

Fixing Outdoor Leaking Faucet

The outdoor faucet at southeast corner of the house started to drip slightly earlier this year. The contractor who painted the house exterior recently, used the faucet for his work, and somehow made the leak much worse, The foundation near the faucet could have problem due to excess water from the leak.

Fortunately, we documented our previous fix of outdoor faucet.  On Saturday morning, we read the document, went to home depot to buy stem washer (1/4" flat washer for the  and TEFLON seal tape). We fixed the faucet leak very quickly: shut off water main, remove the seal assembly, change stem washer, apply TEFLON tape to the TEFLON seal ring, put the assembly back on, turn the water main on, test the faucet.

Home Defense

To reduce bugs, insets, ants ... invasion to our house, we apply "home defense" - a bug barrier spray at least twice a year around the perimeter of the house, once at spring, once at mid summer. Application of the spray in ~ 1 foot wide band around the perimeter of the house, and spray on the exterior wall and window sills as well.

Nothing special here, but very effective!

These and other handyman work are not difficult but since we don't do it frequently, they are not easy. What I like to do is to document the processes for my own future reference - like the faucet blog helped me a lot this time, save time for research, also as reference for my readers :)


1) We fixed problems with our washing machine and dryer - the processes were documented in the links provided.
2) A common problem in the kitchen is the stuck garbage disposal. If the garbage disposal hums but not rotate even after the disposal is cleaned from the sink, all you need to do is to use a 1/4" Allen wrench to rotate the food disposal from the hexagonal slot at the unit's bottom .

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kayaking and Paddle Boarding at Austin

Zilker park and the surrounding area - Lady Bird Lake (a.k.a portion of Colorado River near downtown Austin), is our favorite place to go when we visit Austin.  We have been there a couple times before, and were really impressed by the river and hiking/biking trails along it, but had not got a chance to be on the water.

There are many kayak/canoe/boat rental along the Colorado river near downtown Austin. We went to Zilker park boat rental by Barton Creek, near the famous Barton Spring pool. Barton Creek is a tributary of Colorado River, its water is clearer and cooler than Colorado river;  mature trees line along the creek, make it an ideal place for kayak, canoe or paddle boarding.

We arrived at the rental place shortly after 9am, parking lot was still near empty, and after a short back-and-forth on kayaking or paddle board, we rented two kayaks. Justin and Mom paddled one kayak, Nicholas and I rode the other.

It was a cloudy morning with breeze, perfect for kayaking. Justin and mom quickly paddled away; Nicholas and I paddled slowly near the banks of the creek and the river to enjoy the plants, animals, and shade when Sun came out. We saw many turtles on the logs, water snake swimming, geese by the pier of a bridge on Colorado river. When we looked up to the bottom of a big bridge we saw a lot of pipes - apparently water pipes, sewage pipes, pipes for electrical lines, and maybe even fiber optics.

It was only about an hour when we got back to Barton Creek after paddling pass 4th or 5th bridge in the downtown direction. Lily and I were really enticed to try stand-up paddle board. Finally we decided to change one kayak to two paddle board, and keep one kayak. Nicholas and Mom would continue kayaking, while Justin and I paddled the boards.

It was first time ever for both of us to try stand-up paddle boarding. The instruction was really simple  - start by kneeling on the board, when feel comfortable, push the board to stand-up. We quickly got the feel and stood up on the board. Stand-up paddling gave me a feel of walking on the water, and a feel of totally conquering the river!! It felt great.

We paddled to the left - upstream when getting into the Colorado river from Barton Creek. The river flows really slow due to a dam upstream. The kayaks and kayakers, the boat, paddlers and paddle boards on the river formed a scene by themselves. We paddled the boards gently, and Lily and Nicholas paddled their kayak around us to take pictures.

When we got back to the mouth of Barton Creek again, I asked if Lily or Nicholas wanted to try paddle board. Lily jumped on the offer despite not wearing a swimsuit. I got off the board, anchored their kayak, and helped Lily get off kayak and get on the board.  When in water, I swam across and creek and back to enjoy the cool and clear Barton Creek' spring water! Lily was exhilarated to paddle the board stand up.

When we got back to the rental put-in, it was 12:30pm already - we had been on the water the whole morning. It was great!
upstream from the boat rental is the Barton Spring pool

A bridge over Barton Creek

paddling near the river bank
Turtles on logs
Downtown Austin

Bridges over Colorado river

Nicholas and Dad passing a pavilion
Geese by a pier  

stand-up paddle board

lying on the paddle-board

Splashing water
paddlers and Downtown high-rise

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Pedernales Falls

We went to Austin area to have the 4th of July long weekend with Justin. The original plan was to visit McKinney Falls first on Saturday afternoon, and visit Pedernales Falls the next afternoon.
Unexpected traffic jam on I-35 on Saturday made us arriving at McKinney Falls around 3pm - and we could not get in because McKinney falls reached capacity !! We went to Pedernales Falls instead mid-afternoon.

Pederrnales Falls is about 30 miles west of Austin TX. It is formed when Pedernales river flow over huge slabs of limestone. A beautiful place to visit in the Hill country.

We went to the swimming section of Pedernales River first - clear water gently ran through rugged river banks. Due to impromptu change of plan, we were not really ready for a dip in the water - in fact I was the only person enjoyed the running river under a beautiful sunny sky. 

Pedernalees River
We went to Pedernales Falls shortly afterwards. A short hike from parking lot led us to the scenic overlook over the falls. It was splendid down there. Another short hike led us to the river bed and falls.

The river is very wide in this section, and water level is low. One can see large slabs of limestone exposed dry, patches of the river bed are sandy, and there are small or large puddles here and there on the river bed. We took off shoes and waded in the shallow water over rocks.

The clouds came and went, and the breeze along the river waterway made it quite comfortable on this very hot day. Look downstream from the falls - rocks over the shallow water looked like islands in a lake, and many people simply sat on the rocks in the middle of the river to enjoy the beautiful surrounding and lazy sunshine.

Further down stream, a big rock blocked the river and allows water to go through via a narrow channel.

This is a scenic tranquil place that made us lingered,

Pedernales Falls viewed from Scenic Overlook

The bed of Pedernales River near the falls 

Enjoying the cool water downstream from the falls
"islands" in the river
Natural dam on Pedernalez River
Enjoy Pedernales River and Falls

Note  - This park should be a great place for hiking, bird watching and "white" water kayaking. We will definitely camp there if we go back to the place.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

GMO, Genetically Modified Organism - by Lily

As a geneticist by training, I am especially upset by the public misconception of GMO. A lot of people think it’s scary and dangerous, but what they don’t understand is that almost all the produce on the market and all the pets at homes are essentially GMOs. Genetic modification of species has been in practice in agriculture for thousands of years, done by grafting, inter species breeding, or even mutation breeding. It is done to obtain better yield, better taste, and more varieties, etc. During this process, genes are swapped, genomes are modified, yet humans have enjoyed the results of this practice without doubts. It is important for me to explain mutation breeding, the process of exposing seeds to chemicals or radiation order to generate mutants with desirable traits. From 1930 to 2014 more than 3200 mutagenic plant varietals have been released to the market. One example of this is the Rio Red grapefruit, which was created in a laboratory after years of experimentation. Because mutagenesis, like genetic modification, is a process, mutagenetically created Rio Reds can even be sold as organic.

Most people never question about these approaches or not fully aware of the details. What really made people queasy about GMO is that due to the advancement of science, we can now specifically target a particular gene and engineer a specific change of trait through molecular biology. To avoid confusion, I am going to call this GEO (Genetically Engineered Organism).

Now that you understand what you have actually been eating and the concept of GMO and GEO, tell me why GEO is scarier? Would chemically induced seeds which carry many unknown mutations safer than a targeted mutation generated through GEO technology? I don’t think so. However, some people and the media have used scare tactic to build roadblocks to prevent the advancement and application of this technology.

Monsanto, the leading company in genetically modified and genetically engineered seed, has been accused of creating sterile seeds to gain profit as farmers have to buy those seeds annually. True, Monsanto is a for-profit company and it needs to make money to support its research programs. But money is not the core issue here. As a matter of fact Monsanto has donated their GE seeds to poor countries and those who have special needs. The core reason to make the seeds sterile is to prevent the spreading of the genetically engineered trait freely and randomly in nature, as there is a potential of cross pollination between GE plant and similar species in nature.

Then there are rumors that consuming the “mutants” will cause mutations in humans. This is just laughable, if genetic traits can be passed on so easily we would really have become what we eat! Genetic mutations occur at the DNA level, which would be turned into proteins for humans to digest just like all other foods we consume. There are also rumors that GEO food leads to increased incidence of food allergies and certain diseases. Keep in mind a lot of food we consume these days are GMOs. Why GE food all of sudden becomes the cause? There’s simply no evidence linking GEO foods and food allergy. Ironically, there are articles blaming GE-wheat for the rising incidence of Celiac disease while there’s actually no GE wheat even on farmers’ fields yet.

GEOs allow us to target special conditions to help fight hunger by improving yield, save plant species from extinction caused by natural diseases, prevent human disease by adding special nutrient (such as vitamins). And this technology allows us to do it in a faster and cleaner way than the traditional GMO way.

But there is a true concerning issue with GEOs, that is their impact on the overall ecology as they will change the balance of the eco-system. Therefore, caution needs to be taken and more research is needed to make sure we enjoy the long term benefit of GEOs.

Finally, I hope the expert debate from Intelligence Squared will enlighten you more on this issue.