REVIEW: MY GORGEOUS NEW BATHROOM!

MY GORGEOUS REMODEL!

I am so happy about my results that I feel like I really owe it to Mr. Ohana to share what a wonderful job they have done for me at Sky Home Builders! Please take a look at some of my photos of the beautiful glass tile and custom lighting!

IMG_20180209_113735I hired Mr. Ohana to repair/remodel my small townhome in Duboce Triangle that had not been updated since the 80’s. We are about to finish the first half of the work — my downstairs bedroom/patio/en suite bath. My bathroom footprint was very tiny, and I had always hoped that I could someday expand it a bit for a less cramped feel. The way my home was built, the original bathroom was almost the size of what you might find in the rear of a large motorhome!

Though I had to reschedule many times because of my unpredictable work schedule, Mr. Ohana was very flexible with scheduling and met me for what I thought was a very “no pressure” assessment of what it would take to redo my spaces in the style and quality that is important to me. While discussing the downstairs project, he had many great ideas about how best to utilize the space, and we put together a tentative plan for moving a key wall that would allow for a much larger shower and less claustrophobic feeling around the toilet area. I explained to him that I was looking specifically to create a luxury space, but of course did not have an unlimited budget. I was pleasantly surprised that we could include some pretty difficult changes (moving walls, moving drains, replacing all the flooring, etc.) yet still stay within a reasonable budget.

When it came time toIMG_20180222_123125 do the detailed design and pick materials and fixtures, I appreciated that Mr. Ohana did not restrict the brands and vendors that I could incorporate into the project. I was able to select the exact glass tile, the specific brand and design of fixtures, and I was able to mix and match from diverse sources. Many contractors that I had previously consulted wanted to restrict clients to using one specific vendor for nearly everything — if that vendor didn’t carry the brands you saw in the magazine, you would have to settle for trying to match things to get a “comparable” look instead of what you really wanted for your home.

I work in technology and am a stereotypical gadget-loving guy, so it was important to me to incorporate technology into my remodel wherever possible. Not all contractors can work with that, or at least not within a reasonable budget. Mr. Ohana was open to experimenting with new materials and “high tech” features, and I am over the moon with the results. I decided to go with Kohler products because they have the most complete line of smart fixtures. For instance, I got IMG_20180222_122856the Kohler DTV+ electronic shower mixer/valve system so that after setting up my preferences, a single button starts my shower, warms it to my favorite temperature, and then pauses while I open the door and get in! With the touch of a button, I can control which fixture the water comes from — the shower head, the hand shower, or the overhead rain shower. The polished chrome Purist line of fixtures are gorgeous, and the frameless glass enclosure nearly doubled the size of my previous shower. Custom shampoo niches are lit with dimmable mini LED light fixtures, and they are also tucked in a custom glass shelving area and across an accent wall tiled with beautiful natural stacked stone. Everything, including the humidity-sensing ventilation fan, can also be controlled by my smartphone or even Alexa! My existing Sonos sound system was also extended to drive Kohler Sound-tile speakers above the shower, providing music controlled by my voice, phone, or even the wave of my hand.

The real centerpiece of the bathroom is the Kohler Veil intelligent toilet. Intelligent toilet! Not only does it have an automated bidet system built-in, but everything is customizable from the temperature of the toilet seat to the brightness of the nightlight. Again, these types of high-end, tech features are not installable by your average contractor. They require special planning, special wiring, and special plumbing, and it takes expert installation to pass the strict electrical and plumbing inspections in San Francisco. Whenever needed, Mr. Ohana hired electricians and plumbers who made quick work of the complicated installs, and all of the features work beautifully. They really had to go the extra mile to do major excavation to move the drains, and they had to upgrade/replace the electrical service and panels to the house because it was not originally built to service all of the required extra dedicated circuits for the technology and lighting. This was NOT a quick “tear down and replace” situation. It was like rebuilding the first floor of my house!

IMG_20180222_123213Because of the nature of an “en suite” bathroom, much of the wiring and plumbing required walls to be opened up in the bedroom and garage area. Instead of just patching holes and touching up paint, Mr. Ohana made sure that entire sections of drywall were replaced to assure a smooth finish. He was also very flexible about adding on many “extras” that just made sense to do while walls were opened up. For instance, when the bathroom walls were down to the studs, he hard-wired LED path lights going up my stairwell on the other side. Below the opening for new wiring across the bedroom, he added wired wall sconces for a more custom look for the lighting. He also upgraded all of the existing outlets to have rapid USB charging ports and hard-wired night lights. He added power outlets in the corners of the ceiling so that my rear-channel Sonos speakers no longer have visible cords. None of these things were in the original contract — Mr. Ohana just had the attitude of “why not go the extra mile and make this really NICE”.

IMG_20180222_122911I would also like to say that the on-site workers were incredibly nice to deal with. Jorge, Julio, Benito, and Pablo were especially courteous and respectful. It’s difficult to have strangers come into your home and to trust that they are taking good care of the space when you are not around. I do work from home much of the time, and whenever I had to take special calls or anything else that required quiet, I could always ask them to hold off on noise at one specific time or another, and they were always happy to oblige. Because I was living in the upstairs during the work, the guys were careful to clean as much as possible each day before leaving, and they were careful to hang tarps and such so that dust did not permeate the house. I also have 2 very curious dogs as roommates, and I am always concerned about them escaping to explore down the street, but the guys working at the house were very careful to make certain the dogs were safely confined at the end of each work day. That was a huge stress relief for me.

One thing that really impressed me about Mr. Ohana himself with regard to my space was his acceptance of full responsibility for anything that might accidentally be damaged. Accidents do happen during construction, and a couple of fixtures were cosmetically marred during the shuffle. It was absolutely no problem; items were immediately replaced with new ones. When a floor tile was cracked while the shower enclosure was being installed, Mr. Ohana had the tile installer back to quickly repair it, and he has made sure that everything from top to bottom looks shiny and new!

I expect that we will finish up very soon as we are just waiting on some custom fittings for the vanity and a few other odds and ends, but again, I could not be happier with the way this remodel has elevated the style and function of the space. I am really looking forward to seeing what happens with the upstairs kitchen and bath!

 

Fine Line Putting the Holocaust in Blockbuster Films

Young Magneto struggles as he’s taken into Auschwitz (X-Men: First Class, 2011)

The Holocaust happened, and it is important that we not let the deniers get away with their attempts to rewrite history. That is morally obvious. What’s a little more shaded in gray is what role film and television should play in keeping the truth alive for current and future generations. This is something that I personally struggle with quite often.

Wonder Woman (TV Series, ABC 1975–1977)
Season 1 of the show follows the classic comic story line where Steve Trevor, a WWII pilot, crashes on the Bermuda Triangle home of the Amazons, Paradise Island. He is discovered by Diana, Princess of the Amazons, who insists on nursing him back to health. After Steve has recovered, it is decided that a single Amazon should deliver him back to “man’s world” so that he will not pollute the Amazons’ paradise with his natural misogyny.

Wonder Woman is held by the Nazis

Wonder Woman is held by the Nazis

Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, decrees that a grand tournament will select the Amazon to accompany Steve on his journey back to man’s world. Though she is forbidden by the queen to compete, Diana wins the tournament in disguise. Unable to break her word, the Queen allows Diana to deliver Steve back to America.

During her brief visit to the United States, Diana realizes that the Amazons cannot stand by idly while the evil Nazis threaten to take over all of civilization. After much argument with her mother, it is agreed that she will stay and monitor the situation. Adopting the disguise of a Naval Yeoman assigned to the War Department as a secretary, Diana is able to keep tabs on the war — foiling many Nazi plots that might otherwise have won them the war. Because of her amazing Amazonian powers, she’s named Wonder Woman by the press.

As a little gay boy growing up in the 70’s, I had a mad crush on Wonder Woman — or more accurately, Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in the TV series that made her a household name (see inset). A quote that will live in my head forever is, when a Nazi officer first hears of WW foiling their evil-plot-of-the-week, “who iz deez Vonder Voman” (spoken in typical German; that is, replace all W’s with V’s and say it in English). After she became known as the great protector of The United States, Wonder Woman had to face weekly attempts on her life — from a dancing bear trained to hug her to death to “The Baroness Von Gunther” (a tough–ass Nazi officer). Though I loved the followup series on CBS that was set in the 70’s, there was a certain thrill about the evil Nazis that always made Season 1 on ABC just a little bit more exciting to me.

In the new millennium, I started playing a MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) called City of Heroes that allowed players to create their own superhero and play against in-game villains powered by artificial intelligence. One of the gangs of villains was created to mimic the Nazis in the style of their uniforms and overall tone. After the first few months of the game launch, this set of villains was removed and replaced by a more nondescript gang. My inquiries to the manufacturer of the game about this loss of plot component was my first introduction to the idea that Nazis (and by relation The Holocaust) might not be suitable subject matter for childhood game play. Little gay boys in Tennessee probably shouldn’t grow up imitating their favorite Nazi as he asks, “who iz deez Vonder Voman” — not to mention participating in playground role play where he has to choose to either be Vonder Voman or The Baroness Von Gunther. Pretending to be Cat Woman against Batman is one thing; pretending to be an agent of the most evil, mass murdering coalition of psychopaths from our real world history is just DIFFERENT.

That was my first clue. It opened my eyes. At the time I thought that this one game maker had made a big faux pas, and that it was an isolated thing. Now, many years later, I cannot believe what an outrageous faux pas the gaming company made. In fact, I cannot believe the continual offerings by Hollywood studios.  Offerings that target our young people with the idea that, though Nazis are evil, it’s still fun to play “Good Guys vs. Bad Guys” with them. IT IS NOT.

Many school classes read The Diary of Ann Frank as part of their social studies curriculum. Reading is entertainment, yes — but in this case it is also combined (hopefully) with meaningful discussion about The Holocaust. History is interesting. Horrible parts of our history entertain the mind with interest, but they do not celebrate the horror. Hollywood celebrates horror. Studios compete with one another to come up with the most grisly and frightening movies possible to thrill young audiences. I’ve never had a member of my family dismembered and eaten by a man with a chainsaw, and I’m certain that if I had, I’d have an aversion to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as entertainment 1. The Holocaust is a little bit different. No, it’s a lot different. It is the single ugliest part of human history. It was real.

So, what do we do? Our kids are going to want to see the next big X-Men movie (or other Nazi-filled film), inappropriate content or not. Well, maybe you can do something about it save forbidding your child to see it. Note that this particular film had the MPAA rating PG-13, and this means “parents strongly cautioned”. But how could you have known it had Nazi “snuff” scenes? Well, perhaps PG-13 should mean to you, “watch this before my child sees it, or watch it with my child”. I think that any child who saw that scene should have a serious history discussion with his parent. That is, assuming the child is 13 or older. If he’s younger? You should likely schedule an appointment with a good therapist.

Just as NCSoft (the maker of my Nazi video game) was made to realize how inappropriate was its inclusion of Nazi material as entertainment, I believe that it is about time that our movie studios are made aware that we, the viewing public, do not want them to produce films that use Nazi imagery as a form of entertainment. I was very disturbed by the opening flash-back scenes of 20th Century–Fox’s 2011 film X-Men: First Class. I can clearly recall sitting in the theatre and nearly panicking as I tried to think of what to do.

Within the first 10 minutes of a film created largely in part to entertain children, the audience is shown a little boy interned at Auschwitz where his mother is shot in the head to elicit his cooperation with his captors. Described here in this blog entry, absent the “cool” image of young Magneto of the X-Men, does anything at all sound less than sick here?

If you really start paying attention, you’ll be surprised at how many “mainstream” movies incorporate, if not specifically Nazi-related, some sort of glorified violence. I know, sometimes it’s fun. I was a huge fan of Breaking Bad and The Sopranos. I’m a guy, and I played with toy guns. But if we have to draw the line, I say we do it at The Holocaust. When you’re thinking of taking your child to see the next Captain America movie (or anything else set in WWII times), why not do a quick Google and see if you’re going to a movie that is about Nazis and fun. Those are two things that we should just stop putting together (as if they ever belonged together).

And yes, I am talking about movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and its many sequels which include the Nazis as the enemy. Though that series came from Stephen Spielberg, who I would call the great Jew of directing, I’m not pre-sold on his level of taste. I don’t know that Schindler’s List should have ever been made as a drama instead of a documentary. That’s a much more difficult discussion, but at least it isn’t a situation where the Nazis are sneaking into the film as cheap set dressing. At least it takes things seriously. I’ll save the argument about Nazi-comedies such as The Producers and Iron Sky for another time. For now, please just be aware of the seriousness of what you’re watching in the latest blockbuster.

SIDE NOTE: During the long isolationist period before the US entered WWII, many American companies did booming business with Germany. For example, it is well–documented that Nazi soldiers were hearty drinkers of Coca-Cola, which continued selling to Germany even after we declared war. More interesting is that the precursors of today’s big Hollywood studios helped produce many Nazi propaganda films, including the ancestor of 20th Century Fox (maker of the X-Men movie discussed here). I don’t know why, but that connection intrigues me — as if current film were somehow serving the cause in some way.

 

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  1. Some might point out that this is exactly the same situation given that Chainsaw is based on a true story, the life of serial killer Ed Gein. This actually is a myth. The movie resembles in no way the actual story of Ed Gein, and I believe the connection is continually made for the extra fright provided by a “based on actual events” caption at the start of a movie.

Helix (TV, 2014, Syfy Channel)

I spent this afternoon catching up on episodes 1–3 of the new Syfy Network thriller called Helix — set in an Arctic research facility owned by one of those “umbrella” corporations always home to an escaped killer virus of dubious origins. Normally, I live for such things and love to snuggle under the covers with my puppies and contemplate the unlikely erasure of our entire existence due to pandemics of our own making. Not so much this weekend.

First, mentioned in the plot a few times was the H1N1 flu virus (aka, “swine flu”), a virus that has killed about 15 people in my area of the country over the past few weeks. In fact, I have been so preoccupied with the flu threat that I myself actually walked down to the Walgreens last Friday and got myself a flu vaccination for the very first time in my life.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

The Hot Zone
by Richard Preston

What makes this year different? This year it is taking the lives of perfectly health people in the 20-40 age range along with the standard children and elderly pool of victims. That frightens the hell out of me.

Secondly, I recently read a fascinating book, The Hot Zone, by renowned viral expert Richard Preston. In it he details the discovery of such real-world “hot” agents such as Marberg Virus and Ebola Virus, and he goes into great detail to show how all of us are often just a plane trip away from having them invade our communities — wiping us all out forever!

How can a Syfy Channel movie about a fictional research lab in the Arctic possibly compare to the story of a REAL outbreak of Ebola Zaire that occurred at the warehouses of a Washington, D.C. area monkey import business just a few years ago. As they say, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction — in this case, truth is more real, more terrifying, and much closer to home. The Syfy program is reasonably well made (if you forgive a horribly executed CGI rat-on-rat fight in Episode 2), but it just can’t top what’s already happening in the real world.

FINAL VERDICT: Skip the creepy television show in favor of the totally horrifying reality story already available in print.