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Handyman Letter - September, 1999


1) Is the Internet alive? ... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) Hello and thank you to Websites and publications that have recently linked with or featured the Natural Handyman

3) What's new at

4) Help our newsletter to grow by casting your vote today!!

5) Q&A with our readers


7) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!




I am an Internet junky, though I can happily say that my compulsions have become much less profound as I have matured into a more self-controlled Web surfer. In my early years, I would spend many hours in sheer amazement at the scope of it! Hours would pass like minutes as I investigated, searched, stared and downloaded with abandon. My right index finger began looking like Popeye's forearms and my hard drive was bloated with both useful and silly programs! I lustily competed with my kids for precious on-line time... remember when unlimited minutes were a dream? And I was more than once accused of hogging the computer... by everyone! I guess I was.

Since those days, I have come to work more and play less with this digital toy box. I fortunately never quite lapsed into what has come to be called Internet Addiction Disorder... IAD. A subject of hot debate, IAD seems to be a catch-all term for a number of behaviors that resemble those of the other major addictions such as drugs, gambling and alcoholism. The debate, though, is not whether people exhibit these job and family threatening behaviors... they definitely do. No, it is whether or not any of the symptoms of IAD are caused by exposure to the Internet, or are these behaviors just facilitated on-line... in the sense that a liquor store facilitates drinking or the lottery facilitates gambling. In other words, is easy access to addictive activities the cause of addiction, or do the addictions exist in spite of the behavior, lurking in some dark part of our souls until the pusher makes us an offer we really can't refuse?

My attraction to most anything with the prefix "cyber" is still quite strong. Any little news clip, TV spot or radio blurb about the Web cuts my attachment to physical reality, sucking in my attention like a Hoover on steroids! So a piece of Web news caught my attention recently. It appears that psychologists have discovered that the Internet, the "information superhighway", may in fact be an emotional dead end for some folks! A recent study showed that some people who spend many hours Web surfing have vague feelings of dread, loneliness and detachment. It seems that the more hours they spend on the Web, the less their perceived quality of life. They are less happy.

I was never under the impression that the Web was ever intended to promote happiness. Spending, perhaps, but happiness? After all, the Web in concept is just a bunch of computers that exchange information with other computers generating digital signals which are translated into a finished product of tiny multicolored dots on our computer monitors. We see the dots, our brains recognize patterns and translate the patterns into words and images we understand. But I think along the superhighway an accident occurred... the pieces came together and became something greater. I really believe that the way information is moved, processed and distributed on the Web is under the control of an essentially artificial intelligence.

Remember the late 60's sci-fi movie, "Colossus, The Forbin Project"? Remember when adding machines filled entire rooms and took half an hour to add 1 + 1? Well, a computer scientist named Charles Forbin, working with the military (of course), developed the mother-of-all supercomputers to act as a nuclear guardian for the United States... a doomsday system housed in a massive, bomb-proof underground bunker. Colossus was programmed to respond with nuclear annihilation against any country that would dare launch missiles against the U.S. Through its own complexity, Colossus became a self-aware mechanical Frankenstein, ignoring human commands completely. With its enormous computing ability backed by nuclear clout, it was able to blackmail the world with nuclear annihilation while mutating into an omnipotent protector and benevolent dictator.

Yes, the Internet has developed an intelligence. But not through its own nature or by plan. Rather, it has been given the role of an intelligent creature by the netizens... those of us who depend on its massive computing and informational abilities. Unlike a book or encyclopedia, which are static entities, the Internet is always growing and changing. In this fluidity and interactivity we "perceive" an intelligence, and we behave as if "it" were intelligent. We ask "it" questions, just as we ask another person. When we want to find specific information, we ask "it" to search for us, as we might have once asked the friendly librarian. As these functions become more refined and the computers become more powerful, these abilities will become more human... or superhuman. And we humans love to anthropomorphize... giving inanimate objects or animals human qualities. We yell at the dresser when we stub our toe on it, even though we know (or hope!) it won't respond. When a domestic animal rubs against us, we may perceive love as the moving force because it suits us, not necessarily because it suits the hungry (or itchy) animal!

The Web can fool us in other ways. For example, some Websites are able to interact with visitors. They can remember who we are and what we did while we were there... even months before! Some sites even try to anticipate what we would like to see or do! Add to this mix the fact that real people also communicate through this medium via E-mail, personal message services and information purveyors such as universities, the press and commercial interests. In this light, you can appreciate why there can be a loss of distinction between what is human-generated activity and what is machine activity... the human and the machine folding over each other in an electronic embrace.

In our human relationships, it is sometimes difficult to come to terms with the differences between us. Superficial differences... skin color, language or dialect, unusual physical appearance, etc... are but one level of the complexity of human relations. And to be able to live and work together despite differences in political philosophy, moral attitudes and education is a credit to anyone with the strength and character to try. It is critical to realize that human relations take practice and need real flesh-and-blood interaction to blossom. The Web, for some, can be a convenient barrier to such interaction. The blur between the person and the machine makes for shallow, one-dimensional relationships and lacks the nuances of true interpersonal contact. As the Beatles so aptly put it, "All the lonely people... where do they all come from?" Some, it seems, from the Web.

Perhaps this is the key. With refinements in personal computing hardware and software, it takes so little ability, so little personal investment to surf the Web. We are so distant from each other that there is virtually no risk or need for psychological strength... just an investment of time. What quality of joy, self-esteem or happiness can be found communicating through this inhuman intelligence that has no face, no emotion, no past or future, no memories, no loves or hates? Is it unreasonable to think that a person who invests time there can feel alone and disconnected? And not happy?

I realize that the cure is not on the Web and that there is no simple solution for folks who have lost themselves in cyber-addiction any more than there is a magic potion to deal with the other compulsions and obsessions we humans seem to embrace. And I also know that for some folks without the means to reach out at all... the home-bound and the handicapped... the Internet has been a marvel and a God-send, giving them a way into the world that no other medium could rival... so far.

We all must try to face our personal demons and redirect our time, intellect and energies. For me, it is in spending time away from the machine... leaving the monitor's seductive glow to feel the sun on my skin and taste the warmth of the real world. I need to absorb the human energy of real people, take the time to read both books and body language to recharge my sputtering brain-battery.

There's will always be time to log on... later.



(Note: Q&A's may be edited for length and content)

Dear NH,

Excellent site!! Lots of very good information. I wish I had known of your site when I started in business, 'cause it would have saved me a lot of time, trial and error. I am probably at a similar level of skill and knowledge, but there were still gems of info to be found.

The one caveat I would like to share is that WD-40 is NOT a lubricant. Please note that nowhere on the cans bottles and literature does it say lubricate. Although there is an amount of "slipperiness", this is a rapidly evaporating carrier. The primary function of WD-40 is a solvent and rust dissolver. It "lubricates" by breaking stuck bonds, not by making something less "frictionable" for any length of time. Silicone, Teflon and Lithium are better, more longer lasting choices for true lubrication.

For example, Holmes Halley garage door machines call for monthly lubrication and specifically advise against WD-40 and recommend white lithium grease. An initial spray of WD-40 may help dissolve old layers of grease and dirt build up, but needs to followed up by an application of an actual lubricant for best results.

Keep up the good work.


Dear KG,

Thanks for the kind words. WD-40 is in fact marketed as a lubricant. In promotional literature they sent to me upon request, the WD-40 Company wrote, "The five basic functions of WD-40 -cleaning, lubricating, penetrating stuck metal parts, displacing moisture, and protecting against rust and corrosion- translate into thousands of uses."

However, they also minimize the lubricating qualities in another passage, stating that "WD-40's unique ingredients enable it to clean/degrease,... protect metal and provide light lubrication." So, whether you agree or not with its lubricating properties (I have mixed feelings myself... read the WD-40 article at  ), WD-40 is indeed sold as a lubricant and I'll bet that many people who use it use it for that purpose. I think this may be partially due to the fact that WD-40 predates silicone spray by decades and whole generations of home handymen used it to good result before better spray lubricants arrived on the marketplace. Sort of a "legacy lubricant" you could say!

As far as the recommendation to use lithium grease, this is not as much a put down of WD-40 as it is a recognition of the fact that in some type of mechanical devices, a solid grease is just plain better! This is especially true in devices where there is lots of room for the lubricant since greases work best in thick applications. Also, I would wager that the company discourages the use of WD-40 for the very reason that it will too-thoroughly clean the old grease from the part, leaving it vulnerable to premature wear.

Lubricants such as WD-40 or my more favorite silicone spray are not very effective except in tight places where only thin lubricants are effective. This is why no one in their right mind would suggest using a spray lubricant on automotive bearings, for example. Other characteristics, such as a grease's ability to withstand high temperatures and its thickness, are also used to determine the correct grease for any application.

You are absolutely correct and wise in sticking to the manufacturer's recommendations for lubrication on any device... they should know best the lubricant that will keep the machine humming along.


Dear NH,

After preparing a seam between two pieces of drywall with tape and compound, I found that I could still see the mud line after painting. What can I do to get rid of the line?

Dear J,

Technically speaking, all taped seams should be smooth and dust-free before priming and painting. Once painted, it is virtually impossible to sand them smooth regardless of the type of paint used. This is a common aesthetic problem and not just for amateurs... I have seen many pro jobs that were left in a somewhat rough state for the painters. Sometimes lighting conditions make it difficult to see how smooth the joint is until after painting, where the more uniform color showcases the defects.

But never fear... it's not too late! I suggest putting a broad skim coat of wallboard compound over the rough area, let dry and sand smooth. No wall preparation is necessary unless you used a semi-gloss paint. Then I would suggest a light sanding of the paint with a 120 grit paper before applying the fresh wallboard compound.

If there are still uneven areas, touch them up with another skim coat of compound. Sand off any roughness and use a damp sponge to remove any dust and also to smooth down any sandpaper lines of small defects. This additional TLC (tender loving care) should make the joint smooth as a baby's behind!


Dear NH,

I've purchased some flexible plastic drain tile for a landscaping project to properly direct runoff water away from our home. Is it preferable to use in conjunction with gravel? If so, what size gravel and how should it be done? Finally, would landscaping fabric inhibit its effectiveness?

DK from Springfield, MO

Dear DK,

The idea of this sort of drainage system is to persuade the excess surface water to flow down to the perforated plastic drain pipe by giving it an easy path. Filling the trench completely with gravel allows surface water to flow quickly down to the buried pipe. Covering the bottom of the hole with heavy plastic before laying the pipe will help keep the water within the trench and pipe. However, if the soil under the pipe is relatively undisturbed this is not absolutely necessary.

For the best drainage, the gravel should fill the trench completely with no soil over the top of it. However, porous landscaping fabric can be used within a few inches of the surface of the gravel to inhibit the growth of weeds. If at some point in the future the fabric becomes clogged with soil, it will have to be dug out from the gravel and replaced.


Dear NH,

We have an outside wall that we painted with alkyd paint (for metal or wood). The next year it started peeling. Our home is a winterized cottage. We've got a dirt floor crawl space. Moisture may be coming in from below. One suggestion was to put a moisture barrier on the ground. But it would be also good to know what type of paint would be good for this situation. When we strip the wall and paint it, I want it to stick this time!

ZL from Chelsea, Quebec, Canada

Dear ZL,

By all means put the vapor barrier on the ground! A heavy plastic tarp, overlapped by at least a foot or more if any seams are necessary, and held in place with rocks if necessary.
Alkyd paint acts as a vapor barrier, so if there is a significant amount of moisture entering the wall space, it will tend to literally push the paint off the walls! Reducing the moisture from the crawlspace might alone do the trick, but since you have a recorded history of paint peeling I would advise using a latex primer and paint (or latex stain alone) instead. This will allow more of the day-to-day moisture to penetrate the surface without lifting the new finish.

The old paint surface should be sanded, scraped, sandblasted and/or powerwashed so that it will be somewhat porous, dust-free and mildew free. This will give you the best chance for success.



7) "PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA?"... NH's readers speak out!

...A few months ago NH asked for "handywomen" in our readership to step forward with stories or interesting anecdotes. We received quite a few, but this one in particular seems to set the tone for many others... a woman having to push herself to and beyond her limitations, and discovering the joys of doing it herself! (edited for length)

Dear NH,

Up until a year or so ago, I would not really have considered myself a "handywoman". I could do some minor fixit jobs, put up shelves, change the plugs and blades on the lawnmower.. that sort of thing. However, since I separated from my partner of 10 years about 18 months ago, and realized just how much I missed his electric drill, I have managed to improve my skills immensely.
What started as fixing a bit of termite damage, turned into the lining of my tool shed, which stopped being the "junk storage" area, and is now my workshop (supplied with more tools then he ever had). It was previously just a framed shed with fiber cement sheeting on the outside, and very dark, oily, greasy, dirty studs and noggins on the inside. It is now light and bright, with a place for (nearly) everything, has a workbench and a stack of timber for my next project(s). Still haven't found time to paint it, but it has been masked up for about 3 months now!

My kids (7 and 4) seem to think that all Mum's have probably got a drill in one hand, and a level in the other, as well as a workshop full of circular saws and a variety of clamps and chisels and suchlike. If they're looking for me, the first place they look is now the shed, and not the washing line. And they especially love the mailbox I made them with scraps that I picked up at the trades and demolition waste area of my recycling refuse dump. All it cost me was a few screws.

Being a single Mum who works full time, and is paying a mortgage, childcare, everyday bills etc... I just don't have the money to spare for tradespeople (except for electricians - I do NOT muck about with the hot stuff. It makes me nervous! It's also illegal to do your own electrical work here). I am looking forward to receiving your newsletter - the site is fantastic as far as tips and how-to's go. And very easy to understand when you don't have a great knowledge of terminology.

DP from Queensland, Australia

Thanks, DP

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