The dreaded lead paint

Like most houses built before the 1970s, our house almost certainly has lead paint. Given the number of layers on the paint around the windows and door frames, I'd guarantee there's lead paint there. The rest of the house, well that's anyone's guess. So I've been researching how I can test for it, and then what you do with it.

My family have been remarkably cavalier about lead when renovating in the past. Reading more about it tells me this is insanity. Lead contamination is extremely dangerous and pernicious. It's also very hard to get rid of -- the procedures for DIY lead removal are intense, to say the least, and I imagine professional lead removal isn't cheap.

It seems the spot test kits aren't particularly reliable, and of course only tell you there is lead, not how much or how dangerous. The best method is a field-based X-ray fluorescence test, accompanied by soil and dust sampling. I'm trying to find a place that can do this assessment.

After identifying lead paint, the really hard decisions start. If all our skirting boards, window and door frames are contaminated, is it easier and cheaper to replace them? What about if it's on the walls? Ceiling cavity? This is why I'm going to engage some professionals to get advice on all these difficult decisions.

I guess at the end of the day it'll be peace of mind. We often have little kids around the place, crawling over the floors. And we intend to have our own kids some time. Lead is a really serious matter, so we'll have to take it seriously.

Anyone else got experience with old, contaminated houses?

Bathroom nearly done

Dad, Mum and Holly painting the bathroom

We're making progress with the bathroom. Phil's finished up yesterday, with all the fixtures in. Follow the link to see some photos. Today we sanded and painted the undercoat layer. During the week we'll finish it off and put in things like the towel rail and bog roll holder.

The sliding door gives the room an enormous amount more space, and the fixtures we bought are spectacular. The sky light is great and, even after losing a window, it's really sunny in there. Really happy with how it's looking.

M83 a no show

at Glastonbury

Holly, Mikey and I were quite excited to be seeing M83 last night, ostensibly supporting Midnight Juggernauts at the Enmore. Unfortunately, his band's gear was all somewhere between Paris and Sydney, so they couldn't play. Instead, he played stuff off his laptop, which was hardly a substitute.

We weren't particularly interested in the Sisters of Mercy/Gary Numan stylings of the Juggernauts -- they're okay but we've seen them before -- so we left. And the enormous number of kids was kinda annoying too. We must be getting old.

Now I'll have to go through the hassle of trying to get a refund. Though if we get that, I can justify seeing Ozomatli next weekend.

Bathroom renovation

Gutted bathroom

We're into the second week of being without a bathroom as it gets gutted and re-done. Everything has come out and we're getting there. Gyprock went on yesterday, so tiling and plumbing in the appliances shouldn't be too far away, hopefully.

It's gonna be lovely when it's done, but for now we're imposing on our mates as the house is toilet-less.

Google Calendar sync with Outlook

I, like many others amongst you, have to run the bloated abomination that is Microsoft Outlook at work. It's been quite annoying, as I've really got used to my personal Google Calendar being synced to my phone via Goosync, which has been a real productivity improvement for me. However my work calendar has been left on the desktop, or I could get it logging into the Outlook web access thing from home, but hardly as portable as my phone.

Enter Google Calendar Sync, just released it seems. This periodically syncs your Outlook calendar with Google Calendar. So now my work calendar is on my phone. Brilliant!

One niggle for me is that there's no option to configure which Google Calendar it syncs with, just using your primary calendar. This is annoying as I'd like to separate my work calendar out, so I don't end up with personal items cluttering my work calendar at work, and I can show/hide the work calendar when I'm not interested in work.

Still, as usual I'm sure Google will be responsive to feature requests and that feature will come sooner or later.

Postbox next to Central is good

Wow, the postbox outside Central Station gets fast delivery. I popped the DVD we watched on Saturday night into its Quickflix envelope and dropped it into the postbox yesterday. Quickflix have just emailed me saying they received it. Wow!

The film itself was Blood Simple, the Coen brothers' first film, which I've been trying to get for years. Brilliant film, with many of their hallmarks already in there, including the fat private dick driving a Volkswagon Beetle that popped up in The Big Lebowski.

We also went along to see Erskineville Stories on Saturday night. Shown on a big screen in Erskineville Park, it featured a bunch of old timers telling their stories about Erskineville. It's one of my favourite parts of Sydney, and we would have bought a house there if the prices hadn't been so ridiculous. The stories were great, with lots of humour and interesting tales of this suburbs' past as working class housing.

My grandmother was born in the slums of Forest Lodge and grey up in slummy Annandale, now two of Sydney's more expensive inner city suburbs. I always enjoyed hearing her stories of growing up through the Depression, with periodic epidemics, crowded housing and grinding poverty. As soon as she and my grandfather were able, they moved to the then-outskirts of Sydney to the garden suburb of Concord West. Last year we sold her house for nearly a million dollars!

IE8 will break the web, and about bloody time

So the latest Internet Explorer is out and, like any good web developer, I've downloaded it and thrown the sites I manage at it. The results aren't good, and I'm very pleased by that.

IE8 was originally planned to emulate the broken IE7 rendering engine by default, with standards-compliant sites required to use a dodgy, non-standard hack to actually render using the new, standards-based engine. This met with howls of protest from the community of developers trying to get standards to actually work. Fortunately, the IE team listened to the feedback and reversed the decision. So now, out of the box, IE8 will render in standards mode, and sites with broken markup will have to use the dodgy hack to force IE7 rendering. Brilliant!

This decision will break the web, which is excellent. All those shonky hacks used to make IE work will stop working, and the enormous market power as the vast majority of browsers are upgraded to IE8 will force web developers to actually do something, and acknowledge that they haven't been doing things right. If you're lucky and using some kind of templating, the fix will be very easy. If you're not using templating, it could be quite painful. But it means the next redesign will do things right!

For sites I've built from scratch, the results are exactly as expected. My home page renders perfectly, as it did in IE7, Firefox, Safari, Opera, lynx, links and probably any other browser.

For sites I've inherited, the results aren't so good. The site I support for my main job breaks very badly. The shonky sIFR Flash+JavaScript font rendering breaks completely, the top navigation looks funny and doesn't work, some of the style cascading is strange. It'll be easy to fix, just tweaking the base template to have the IE7 mode forced.

We're planning a redesign, as is pretty usual with these types of projects, and I plan to consolidate the ridiculous proliferation of styles. The new design will follow the standards and use the bare minimum of hacks to get it mostly working in IE7. It should work just fine in IE8. Yay!

Hopefully Microsoft will automatically upgrade most users once IE8 is released, as has happened with IE6. That enormous market power will finally be put to some good use. There will be pain, but it will be pain that makes the world a better place. How novel to be praising Microsoft!

Ted Fest

Those of you who know my views on religion, and organized religion in particular, might be surprised to learn one of my idols is a Catholic priest. Father Jack Hackett has always been a role model for me, someone whose virtues present something of an inspiration. His religious teachings ("that would be an ecumenical matter") are both profound and point us to the unknowable.

In this vein, I would have loved to join the throngs of Teds, Dougals, Jacks, Mrs Doyles and Lovely Lovely Girls at Ted Fest on Craggy Island recently. What a fantastic idea!

In the same vein, I'd love to go to Lebowski Fest at some point, although I'm not too keen on visiting the US these days given the rudeness of their security apparatus.

St George bringing in two factor authentication

I've banked with St George for many many years, and they've long been pretty ahead of the pack with technology in Australia. I got a letter the other day indicating that they were bringing in some new "Secure Code" system, which sounded like two factor authentication to me.

Looking at their site, it seems they are indeed bringing in such a system. For risky transactions (and I'm sure they can raise and lower the bar at will) they'll send a code to your mobile or landline phone, which you need to type into the application to complete the transaction.

It's interesting to see financial companies finally getting onto the two factor authentication bandwagon. The point is that you need to present something you know and something you have without massively inconveniencing your customers. The mobile or landline seems to me like a pretty good balance between security and convenience.

I notice that Paypal now uses some kind of security token that looks a lot like the RSA tokens people carry around for VPN access in a lot of companies. I wonder how long it'll be before we're all carrying around a clutch of these things?

Now I'm thinking about implementing an sms-based two factor system on my own server. Wonder if there's any software for doing that?