Electrostatic precipitator

When we purchased our current home, the furnace situation was a bit of a mess. The furnace was an old oil-burning monster that had been converted to burn natural gas. The exhaust running through the crawl space was full of holes, and instead of a fabric air filter, it had an electrostatic precipitator. In theory, this was cool – precipitators use a negative charge on large plates to effectively remove particles from the air.

However, the precipitator didn’t work, and when we replaced the furnace with a much newer gas furnace, we asked the installer to remove the precipitator. He didn’t, saying it still worked and was good thing to have. Sadly, he was wrong about it working. So air just passed through it to a reusable filter below.

Then, when we remodled the basement, we built a wall around the entire unit to quiet the whole operation down. I left access panels on both sides for the filter and to access the furnace proper. It really quieted things down, which made the basement a much more pleasant place to be. Then, last winter, the furnace started acting up. Twice, the unit died. Once, the ignition element cracked, and the second time, the board died. On the service visit, Todd Morrison (who is awesome) recommended removing the precipitator because he felt there was some restriction on the airflow. I cleaned out what I could in the precipitator from below, but the top portion was now closed in by the wall. (whoops)

Yesterday I pulled out the fabric filter, grabbed the sawzall, a drill, and some tin snips and started taking apart the precipitator plates. It was dirty and slow. But then I hit the motherload. Atop the two metal plates (the positive then the negatively charged panels), I found a screen mesh that was clogged with suety, gross lint and nastiness. See.

I fired up the furnace, and the airflow was immediately improved. The air stunk of burnt oil, so I ran the unit for a while while everyone was gone with all the windows open. Now we should be in for a cheaper, warmer winter.

Chicago surprise

Andy and Michelle at Wrigley FieldA week before my birthday, I received an e-mail from my wife at work saying “don’t plan on being at work from Sept22-24.” I snapped back “I can’t miss work during the first week of the term with all that is going on. Plus, my dad and I are going to Primus on the 22nd.” A few minutes later, an annoyed e-mail came in that said (paraphrasing): “Primus was a ruse, your boss and coworkers have known about this for months, and they just want to make sure your desk is clean before you go. The only reason I’m telling you is because a lot has changed since the plans were originally made.”

Well, the morning of my birthday, I walked the girls and dogs around the block and got back to find my mom and wife getting the car ready, and my mom started driving us in the direction of the airport. I hadn’t seen the luggage or anything, but when we pulled up to the airport, Michelle was crying and telling the girls she’d miss them and call them. Surprise number 2 – the trip would be sans children! (try not to sound too excited…) Then, as we were self-checking in for the flight, Michelle implored me to check my wallet. It seemed a little fatter, but as I opened it, right in front were 2 tickets to that night’s Cubs game vs. San Francisco… At Wrigley Field.

I’ll spare you the travel details (no kid!) but we arrived in Chicago, took the train to the hotel, got back on a train to Wrigley, and had just bought some ball park sausages when the game-related events started to wind up. My wife the birthday ninja pulled of another big surprise, and here we were just a few hours later sitting in Wrigley Field watching the Cubs. And as an added bonus – they actually won. It was surreal – genuine harvest moon rising from behind the rooftop bleachers behind right field, Buddy Guy throwing out the pitch and leading the 7th inning stretch, drinking Old Style and eating polish sausage, and watching my first Cubs game and game at Wrigley. It was awesome.

And that was only the first day. (Though we were up pretty late that night exploring, then trying to find some food.) Day 2 we took a boat tour put on by the architectural society, walked to Millenium park, hit the top of the Willis (aka Sears) tower, walked back uptown, then met Hilary (yes, my sister was there too) and Avery for dinner in Wrigleyville at a burger bar. Then, we grabbed a beer at the Map Room before heading separate ways.

The architectural boat tour was very entertaining and very satisfying. I consider myself a bit of an armchair architectural critic, and Portland largely doesn’t cut it when it comes to major architectural developments of the last century. Sure, we have some wonderful buildings, and we have what is considered to be the first (rhymes with worst) postmodern building, but so much of the Art Deco styling can only be found as facades on smaller buildings, many on the east sider of the river along Sandy. I’ve never been too keen on Modernist architecture. I get it, and seeing it done well certainly helps. In fact, it’s hard not to see the lobby of some of these massive buildings and not imagine the clothing and conversation of people walking to and from the elevator when these buildings were new. And, more recently, I’ve discovered that I like what a modernist building does to a skyline when compared to the overly busy and detailed facades of the post-modern stuff coming up now. Anyway, it was wonderful to see the birthplace of the skyscraper and see the history as it solidly sits above the river. And then to go to the top of buildings that stand nearly twice as tall as ours in Portland, a freshman of a city by comparison.

Day 3 we started the morning at Shedd Aquarium, which I must say has one of the most amazing grand hallways anywhere. The marble on the walls looks like waves and sea foam, the ornamentation around the room and on the light fixtures was all decorated to resemble or show sea life, and it certainly made waiting to buy tickets much easier. The museum’s Amazon/Freshwater displays were probably my favorite part because they were so unlike any of the aquariums I’d been to before. The pacific northwest display was a good attempt, but we’ve been spoiled by the Newport and Seattle aquariums. And the Invasive Species room was a treat for me. I only wish they could have and some lamprey’s in the tank.

After a short lunch we immersed ourselves in the Field Museum. Again, there’s a sense of paternalism that permeates this place, especially among the older exhibits that fits the era, but now seems kind of, well, bully-ish. That being said, I appreciate their work and their absconding away from around the world with fascinating (I’m sorry, they purchased their collection, right) relics, animals, and information. Some of the animal displays were similar to those in the Hastings Museum that I loved to visit with my grandparents growing up, but the scale and variety of the field museum is, frankly, overwhelming. Five hours was not enough, and after several hours, you’re kind of saturated. I’d love to come back again – if only to stand in the great hall. It’s amazing. Even without the 67 million year old broad menacing everyone.

The afternoon was sunny and surprisingly clear considering what was supposed to be a rainy day. We decided to grab drinks in the Hancock building and even got window seats on the west side. It was a great place to watch the sun set, and frankly, the drinks weren’t as expensive as I had expected. We had sushi for dinner (I know, what were we thinking?) and tried to clean our palates afterwords with some lovely Two-hearted ale.

The 4th day was our last, so we wandered by foot out to the waterfront, down to the Navy Pier, then in to town for a last stroll through. We tried to do some shopping but realized that all the stores were the same, prices were the same, and at home, we could skip sales tax. Yeah homogeneity.

I managed to squeeze a lunch trip to Big Star for our departing lunch. It was most excellent, and was a great thing to have in our bellies before the flight home. Plus, getting there was a little indirect because of a failed address lookup in Google maps, not that I’m complaining, which allowed us to walk through some more marginal and nice neighborhoods, something that was a treat for me.

I’m kind of amazed that all this actually happened, and having worked on this post over the last couple weeks, it already seems so long ago. I’m fortunate to have such a wonderful wife and friend to give me such an awesome birthday, and to arrange it so far in advance with my boss and coworkers. Thanks.