For the last several weeks I’ve been blitzed by a new task; trying to find a way to build a second dwelling unit on the same one acre-plot of ground as my house. Of course this begs the question; isn’t one house enough for two people, two useless cats and one crazed Chihuahua?
The answer is “yes,” but the problem is that I’m moving my 89-year old mother from her ancestral home in Azusa, CA to my place here in rural northern San Diego County.
I’ve tried t o approach the problem in a fashion that guarantees I remain cheerful, open-minded and at least somewhat sane. Hell, putting up a cottage for MaForbes should be a simple task.
Or so I thought before I entered the Alice in Wonderland World of Building codes, land use laws, Planning Department regulations and meetings with contractors, architects and modular kit home suppliers. I started the process of building a home for MaForbes, by collecting the requisite paperwork at the Planning Department in Escondido. I instantly went from a 20-page stack of forms and regulations, to a three-inch collapsible file filled with meeting notes, suggestions, building drawings and of course more forms.
The problem I have with forms is that I’m handicapped and have limited use of my dominant left hand, fine control of which fell victim to a stroke several years ago.
Three days and two trips to City Hall later, I realized that I had the technology on hand to organize and efficiently execute the entire process.
That technology is my ThinkPad X60 tablet computer, which makes showing plans to city officials and reviewing with second, third and even fourth parties the hundred or so regulations I have to deal with a simple process.
So now, I use the X60 on a daily basis. I boot it up in the morning and keep it on throughout the day, being careful to back up my data to a flash drive every three or four hours. I’ve also discovered that most of the material I need is available from a website maintained by my city. I’ve quickly used nearly 1gb of storage on the X60’s hard disk drive but I have a lot more space that’s available to me. More importantly, I keep all of the files pertaining to this task on two 2GB flash drives that I keep securely stored away when they’re not needed.
Like a lot of people who think about convertible tablet computers, I recognized how important the technology can be for specific vertical applications, like medicine, law enforcement, forms-based business and other usage models. But it wasn’t until I started planning on moving MaForbes down here that I had my epiphany: my tablet was so versatile that it had transformed not only how I accomplished a task, but more importantly how I viewed the task and how I shared my work with others.
The beauty of this form factor for the task at hand is that construction is a forms-based task and a multi-path communications channel. It also involves a lot of check box items and where I live (in Escondido, CA) architectural drawings.
I began the process by reading state and local regulations about the construction of Second Dwelling Units (also known as “granny flats” and “in-law cottages.”) Thanks to a chance conversation at my 40th high school reunion, I learned that the State of California had passed legislation designed to make the construction of said dwellings easier. It was my extreme luck that the person who told me about this was a chum from high school who was about to retire from the San Diego County Planning Department. And even more fortuitous for me, his mother ha moved into his house recently.
One thing led quickly to another and I soon found myself having lunch in San Diego with my buddy. I brought along the various pertinent regulations, which he kindly highlighted so that I could better understand what I could and probably could not do. He also suggested that I ask the clerk at my city’s planning office to give me copies of all building permits for Second dwelling units that had been approved by the city. Those files were online and available as PDF’s and they also provided me with the names of contractors and architects who had successfully built legal SDU’s.
Over two days, I assembled the data I needed and stored it on my tablet computer. My goal was to use my X60 tablet throughout the permit and building processes.
The first couple of time I showed up at City Hall, unpacked and turned on my notebook and brought up the files I needed, was an incredible experience. I asked the clerks and inspectors for guidance on the highlighted regulations. They quickly understood the pen tablet interface and I was in and out of the department in minutes.
But the real surprise to me has been the impact of the hinged screen, which tilts and swivels, thus enhancing the viewing experience. Anecdotally, I believe this capability enhances communications between parties. I’ve noticed that the officials I deal with are quick to adjust the screen so that they and other coworkers involved in my transactions can more easily read the on-screen data.
Although I’ve seen this before in study groups at a local college, the immediate effect of this feature in settings where I need feedback on a regulation is quite dramatic.
I’ve had the same experience in my dealings with contractors who want my construction project.
The lesson from my experience is simple: convertible computers incorporating pen interfaces can and do facilitate communications. They turn what use to be one-way, one person at a time, communications into multipath broad communications channels.
I'm now conbvinced that any of the current tablet PCs made by HP, Gateway, Fujitsu a well as Lenovo, could fit nicely into the construction business. COnvertible computing, it's not just about medicine, insurance; law enforcement and academic computing, it's the important next step in personal and business computing.
But back to MaForbes’ new home: In the end, it’s going to be a lot cheaper to bump out one side of my house, widen the doors in case Mom needs to use a wheelchair than it is to put up a second dwelling unit with associated plumbing, water and electrical connections. It will also take a lot less time and involve far fewer permits.
Or at least that’s what the contractors and my spreadsheet says. And, the remodel will take only five to six weeks. And in the end, MaForbes won’t be alone, and that’s good. Lois and Boardie’s son, Jim Forbes on 07/30/2007.