Thursday, February 11, 2016

5056 Coming out

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for a while you'll see why."
-- Mignon McLaughlin --


Today is my next-younger brother's birthday.  I think he's 67.  Dear Big-Little Sister and Daughter are in close touch (I'm a social slob, I leave family contact to them) and Sister told Daughter that Brother has throat/oral/mouth? cancer.

I don't know what to think about that.  I haven't seen or spoken to him in more than 35 years, and I don't want to.  The last contact I had with him was when we (Ex#2, Daughter, and I) were living in the DC area, and for some undisclosed reason (Mom later hinted at his being in trouble with some drug cartel or something) he had to get out of Florida and hide for a while, so he came to live with us.  It was not a good experience.  He may or may not have done something unforgivable while he was living with us, that's murky because Daughter was only 3 or 4 then and didn't tell me about it for many years, so I don't know, but given some things my late baby sister said I believe in the possibility if not the actuality, anyway he was very disruptive while with us and then he disappeared with no notice, leaving me to deal with phone calls and threats from very scary people looking for him.  And he never explained what was going on or said thank you (or paid back the money I lent him).  He just disappeared.  So, it's like he's a stranger.  I have no feelings.

I had more of a reaction to the news about Evan Morris, the "Word Detective" guy.  He's been battling progressive MS for years, and has now been diagnosed with Stage 4  cancer.  He and his wife and a herd of adopted ex-feral cats live way out in the sticks, and their 19-year-old car died, and they have no means to buy another.  I really feel for him.  The link above goes to a letter to those of us subscribers who have been enjoying his column for years.

Sister has given rides to Brother to his treatments.  I admire my Big-Little Sister.  She has even greater reason to write off Brother than I, but she is capable of more compassion and forgiveness than I.


I've been reading old posts in this blog.  You know, memories are not always very accurate.  I loved the country house, loved the countryside, all the things to do there, all the friends and acquaintances.  I went out for lunch or dinner with friends at least three times a week, and there was something interesting going on almost every weekend.  I remember all the good stuff.  In fact, I was so deluded as to think that I never felt cold in that house.


The winters were brutal!  The house is on a ridge, higher than surrounding land, so I got more snow and wind.  The 300 foot driveway was constantly buried in snow, ice, slush, a horror, and it was not always easy to find someone to clear it.  If the snow was soft enough that I could run the snowthrower, it took hours to do it myself, and the snowthrower was constantly breaking down.  We were constantly losing electricity because of downed wires, which meant no heat, no water (no well pump).   And even though the house was technically tight and the thermostat said the temperature was constant, every time the sun went down, I felt so cold. 

In the spring and fall, there were storms, ice storms and wind storms, that took out branches and whole trees on my property.  One year I lost more than 23 trees.  I don't know how there's any trees left in my woods!

In the summer it was the weeds, and raspberries, and wild roses that threatened to overrun everything - a constant losing battle.  Then there was the yellow jackets, who built nests in, on, and under anything that held still for more than a few hours.  I had to be careful every time I opened a car door, or filled a car gas tank, because there was likely a nest in there.  And then there were the ground-nesting hornets that made it dangerous to walk across the lawn, let alone mow.  And the chipmunks who undermined the driveway, causing cave-ins.  And the mice who rampaged in the attic, and died in the walls.

Old blog posts remind me that it wasn't all that idyllic.  At my current age and physical state, I'm not sure I could handle it.  Well, maybe I could, but I absolutely don't want to anymore.

I've about decided the only thing I really miss are the daffodils.  And Jay.

I think I'm finally ready to do something about it.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

5055 Lawn

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity."
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe --


Last spring I got aggressive about the front lawn. It was full of dandelions.   I sprinkled a weed killer and fertilizer, and some grass seed, and for most of the summer it looked almost decent. 

Then in early fall, some kind of weed started growing.  It has continued to spread, even through the winter.  It's now covering most of the upper half of the lawn.

It's "Creeping Charlie".  You know what?  I'm going to let it take over.  It's low, it's green, it's evergreen, it has tiny leaves and tiny purplish flowers, and it laughs at most weed killers.  It's edible, and smells nice when mowed. I can still spray or sprinkle for dandelions and crabgrass without apparently hurting it. 

Sounds like it's easier to keep than grass, and needs less mowing. I can't think of any reason one would prefer grass.

5054 Retreat

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find
outside an advertising agency."
-- Raymond Chandler --


I saw the first robin in the front yard this morning.


As I mentioned, I've been reading my blog posts from 2006,7,8, and I think I am finally cured of wanting to move back up there to the old house  The winters were BRUTAL!  I don't think I would be capable of handling that driveway any more.  I do think it's time to let go, and be glad of it.

Friday, February 05, 2016

5053 Got the blahs

Friday, February 5, 2016

First you have to figure out who you are.
Then you have to like who you are.
Then you have to be who you are.
That's where strength comes from, and all else follows.


Yesterday it was very warm, close to 50 F.  Nugget came to visit, and we went to the town hall (pay taxes), the bank (deposit some checks), post office (buy stamps), and a sub shop (feed Nugget).  She was wearing a light jacket, I wore no jacket or sweater at all.  She tried to get me to put the top down, and I might have, except that I'm still full of phlegm and don't want to tempt fate.

The snow from the previous storm had been steadily melting, and yesterday the last little bits disappeared, even in the shade.  It was a nice feeling.

So this morning I was surprised to wake to the sound of a snowplow going down the street.  There's a manhole cover near my driveway, and when the plows hit it, they make a loud bang.  That's what woke me.  I got up and went to the window and found about three inches of snow on the ground.  What?  Oh, come ON!

But it's near 50 again, and it's melting fast.  That means ice overnight, but it should all be gone tomorrow.


I've been reading this blog, and adding tags.  I started near the end of 2006, I think, and I'm now into late 2008.  I can't believe how much has changed.  

Before I moved to New Jersey, I was going out for lunch or dinner with friends three or four times a week, sometimes more.  I went to performances, fairs, shows, movies, auctions.  I read a lot.  I walked a lot.  I was, in short, very active and social.  I was involved with Mensa, and Meetup, volunteer groups, and the dance stuff.  I had a lot of opinions, some even passionate opinions, which became blog posts.  And, of course, there was The Man.  I really really miss the fun we had, back when it was fun.  I miss that version of him.

Then I moved down here (late 2010, early 2011), and almost immediately had the kidney thing, which put the skids to so much for so long.  The local Mensa bunch, the folks within travel distance of my current location, anyway, isn't to my taste.  Local meetup groups seem to emphasize booze and bars, which doesn't interest me, plus I don't understand most of the people I'd met at the few functions I'd attended.  They seem so, uh, New Jersey shallow.  And racist.  (Becs, resist the urge, I have enough negativity of my own right now...)  There are no auction houses.  I checked into volunteer organizations, and they don't do anything much around here. There doesn't seem to be any easy way to find out about activities, lectures, happenings, and the few public events I have discovered --- the crowds and traffic were discouraging.

So my world has been getting smaller and smaller.  I go nowhere, talk to no one.  I'm turning into a hermit.  As to opinions, I almost never turn the TV on, except for a very few shows I watch and then immediately off again, and I never watch the news.  I resist exposure to the news because a.) they never cover important stuff, and b.) what they do cover tends to just anger me.  And there's no point in saying anything about it, because nothing will change.  Nothing will ever change.  It's about to where I don't care anymore.  What will be will be.

So, reading old posts is reminding me that once life was fun.  

 But the elements that contributed to the fun don't seem to be here.


The Aberdeen township sent out an email saying that ALERT! a pit bull who had bitten three people has been diagnosed with rabies, so they need to know of anyone who had contact with the dog.  If you or anyone else blah blah contact blah blah immediately.  A very long email, detailing what rabies is, mentions of past animals in the township with rabies, what animals to avoid (raccoons, stray cats, skunks, etc.), blah, blah, blah.  

Nowhere in that whole screed do they describe the dog other than that it was a pit bull, nowhere do they mention what neighborhood, and this is a long narrow township.  They also don't advise anyone to check their cats for damage, most of which run loose and are not taken in at night.  (That's where some indication of neighborhood might come in handy.)

Around here, about every fourth dog is a pit bull.  Nobody trains their dogs.  They might try, but they don't know how.  People seem to think that their dogs speak English, so yelling "Hey, you, get over here!" should have meaning to the dog, and they get mad when the dog doesn't obey  I suspect few people get the immunizations.  I know just by looking that almost nobody neuters male dogs, especially the pits.

What does surprise me is that you almost never see dogs running loose.  Too many guns around, I guess.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

5052 Iowa and groundhogs.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Trumpster has been surprisingly calm about the Iowa loss to Cruz.  Not that it matters a whole lot; Iowa is not a predictor.  On the other hand, Cruz's showing freaks me out.  He really scares me.  I don't like the way he fights, by throwing dirt without bothering to find out whether it's even remotely true or not.  Worse, he doesn't seem to care whether it's true or not as long as it sticks and hurts his opponent.  And --- this is totally inconsequential and shallow and I know that --- many of his facial expressions remind me of Bill Murray, and I despise Bill Murray, which is also shallow, but there it is.

I think The Donald better get used to this.  I've been saying all along that the polls and crowds don't mean anything other than that people find him supremely amusing and want to encourage him to be even more outrageous.  It's a great show, and yeah, let's go to his rally, it might be fun!  None of which is any indication of how people will actually vote.  Oh, yeah, he does have supporters who are serious, but not as many as polls imply.  You don't have to be as serious in a poll as you'll be in the booth.

Speaking of Bill Murray, what did the groundhog say?  We'll have an early Spring?  Oh, ok.  Does that mean Spring will be in full swing by the first week in March?  The alternate six weeks would put it mid-March.

I've never really understood those numbers.  Most of the places I've lived, we HOPED the groundhog saw his shadow so we'd have ONLY six more weeks of winter!  In the mountains of Pennsylvania, when I was growing up, our first snow fell in October, and those flakes were still on the ground (under six to eight more feet of snow) in early May.  At the country house, snow started in mid-December, we'd have a tiny teasing taste of spring in late March, and our last major snow storm was the first week of April pretty much every year.  So six more weeks of winter as of early February?  Spring arrives in mid-March?  Great!  We'll take it.  Only six more weeks is good!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

5051 Brush fire 6 - eBay

Sunday, January 31, 2016

"As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand."
-- Josh Billings --

I have no idea what was going on with the laptop yesterday, but when I started it up this morning, it was perfectly fine.  All my icons and widgets and bookmarks are present and functional. Google, Feedly, and Firefox all recognize me.  Everything was exactly as it should be.

I'm not going to question it.  Just accept and tiptoe away.


EBay has this new thing where they want you to link your eBay account and your PayPal account.  I ignored it and didn't do it, because I don't like the idea of eBay knowing my PayPal password, but now I'm beginning to see sellers who won't allow bidders whose accounts are not linked.  So finally I gave up and attempted to link them.

Nope.  For some reason, eBay refuses to believe I even HAVE a PayPal account, and wants me to open a new one.  After multiple attempts, I went to eBay help chat, and was told that it's a bug that some people are hitting, and they're working on it.  Another eBayer (a seller) told me that many people are hitting that wall, and there doesn't seem to be a fix.

I'm starting to think that maybe it would be a good idea to go ahead and open another PayPal account, and never use it for anything other than eBay.  That way, eBay would have a password only for the new account, and if anything gets screwed up, I still have the "real" account for other online shopping.  (Yes, I do use it everywhere shops will accept it, because that way I can pay for stuff without giving credit card or bank account info to strangers.)

So, that was another brush fire because it consumed time, energy, and emotional reserves.


 It isn't that I don't trust eBay with my PayPal password.  Well, actually, I don't, but not because I doubt their honesty --- I doubt their ability to protect it.  Their coders are a bunch of incompetent screw-ups.

There have been a lot of small changes in the checkout procedures lately.  One is that they will fill in your eBay userid and your PayPal userid on the form (yes, they know my PayPal userid, the one they claim I don't have when I try to link it, you know, that one...).  I don't remember when eBay started, but Jay jumped right in from the start, so it must have been the late '90s.  After he died, I took over the eBay account, and I changed the userid.  That has to be at least 13 years ago, probably more.  That old userid has not been used in like 13 years, and yet, sometimes, not every time, but sometimes, eBay fills in the checkout form with that old userid.

I'm thinking that when I attempt to link the accounts, the code is using that old userid instead of the current one, and that's why they don't see a PayPal verification.  PayPal didn't exist back then.

Shall I tell them?  Sellers are starting to get angry because they are missing bids from people who are unable to link the accounts.  Maybe if they get angry enough to revolt, eBay will give up on this "link" idea?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

5050 Sick, both me and laptop

Saturday, January 30, 2016

So, let's see, I've got almost a week to cover. 

I don't remember much about Monday.  See?  That's why I have to update frequently here, or I just lose days.  The week before, my back had been bothering me a lot.  A few days I had worn the back brace, but by Saturday I was just carrying it up and down stairs with me in case I needed it.  By Monday there were just a few ouches when I moved wrong, and that's about all I remember about Monday, --- except that Monday evening, late, I started coughing.  A dry cough.  Every few seconds. When I went to bed I was afraid the cough would keep me awake, so I put Vicks Vapo-Rub on the soles of my feet under socks, which is supposed to stop coughs, and has always worked before, but didn't help this time.  All it did was keep Jasper off the bed.

Tuesday, Daughter, Nugget, and I went to a nearby Peruvian restaurant, Inkanto, on route 35 in Hazlet, for an early dinner.  It was very good, I recommend the place.  I was still coughing.  I didn't feel sick.  I described it to Daughter as feeling like there was a popcorn husk stuck far back on the back of my tongue.  That tiny spot of irritation that just won't go away.

Tuesday night, my soft palate got that hot burny feeling.  Uh oh.

Wednesday I woke up to body aches all over, hot dry throat, stuffed up nose, pounding headache from side to side above my eyebrows, and sneeze sneeze sneezes, in between the coughing.  A lot of phlegm, but it was nicely clear.  From coughing so much, my belly and ribs hurt when I coughed.  Maybe a slight fever, not enough to worry about.  Still, the worst part was the feeling of impending doom.  I can't emphasize that too much.  It was obviously just an ordinary cold virus, a head cold, but I felt like I was going to die.  It wasn't in my chest, but I was so afraid I was headed for pneumonia.  Doom!  Doom!  Morbid doom!  Tomorrow I will be dead!

I filled the bathtub with the hottest water I could stand, climbed in, and read a book.  Did that in the late morning, and again in late afternoon.  I figure if the purpose of fever is to kill invaders, I'd help it along.  I did feel better for a short time after each soak.  But still, doom!

Bed early.  Slept well, because the sneezing and coughing seemed to have lessened. 

Woke Thursday feeling a lot better.  Still headaches, still stuffy, but my body felt a bit better, and the hot spots in my throat had cooled down.  Spent the day wandering the internet and reading stuff.

Friday, just yesterday, I felt absolutely wonderful!  I was going to live!  My back was not only all better, but I'd never before been so pain-free all over, an unusual state for me.  I haven't felt this well in ages!  No stabs, no aches, no burning spots in my thighs.  My legs were even listening and obeying when I spoke to them.  My nose was running, lots, that thin stuff that dribbles down your upper lip and drips on everything before you can get a tissue up, but hey, I'll take that. 

Today, I woke to a very dry burning nose and throat.  Sigh.  I guess this is the second phase.  Friday was just a tease.  Lots of phlegm in my throat, thick, nasty pale yellow-green-gray greasy grimy gopher guts.  I've spent the day snorking and choking to get it up, down, and out.  Dry coughing a lot again.


As if that wasn't enough...

I rarely shut down the laptop.  Every night I disconnect from the wifi and then just close the lid.  In the morning, I reconnect, it asks me for my password, and then torques back up to where I left off the night before.

This morning, I opened the lid, and nothing happened.  Light blue screen. 

I waited.


I waited some more.


I closed the lid, waited a few seconds, and opened it again.  This time I got the hardware Toshiba logo, and the spinning circle. 

I waited.

Nothing more.

I made breakfast.  Ate breakfast.  Made instant coffee.  Drank coffee.

Still nothing more.  Spinning circle on Toshiba screen.

I pressed the off button, the laptop turned off, I waited a few seconds, then pressed it again, and it started.  Got the Toshiba screen, then my usual sign-in screen asking for the password, gave it my password, then, slowly, gradually, a windows screen came up --- but it isn't mine.

It's acting and looking like it has never met me before.  Half the icons on the left side are missing, and there's no rhyme or reason to what's left.  My widgets on the right are missing.  There was an icon for Firefox, so I started that up, but Firefox acted like it had never heard of me and wanted me to set up a new account.  When Firefox started, all my bookmarks are missing.  All my settings are missing.  Same with Goggle. 

I was able to get to my Yahoo and Gmail email accounts, so I'm not dead in the water.  There's that, anyway.

I don't know a lot about how PCs work, but if this were big iron, I'd say my directory has been corrupted.  I'm beginning to suspect that after I closed up last night, Windows decided to update itself, and got interrupted partway through.

Back to the friendly service guys on Monday, I guess.  I still have my little notebook, or note pad, or whatever that thing is, but it's annoying to type much on, so if I disappear for a while, it's the laptop that's in the hospital, probably not me.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

5049 Snow Spider Queen

Sunday, January 25, 2016

The Nugget tried to make a snowman in my front yard, but the snow, although heavy, wasn't sticky and wouldn't roll.  So she pushed some together into a mound, and her Daddy got a solid chunk from the side of the street for on top, and she made a spider. 
It has the proper number of legs.  Note the crown.  It's a queen spider.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

5048-b So far so good, I guess

Saturday, January 23, 2016, 8:30 pm

From an email just received:
Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) has restored service to more than 71,000 customers who lost power as a result of the massive snow storm and high winds moving through the state. Currently, 16,000 customers are without power, the majority of which are in Monmouth and Ocean counties.

I'm in Monmouth county, but haven't lost power.  Yet.  Ocean county is the next county south.

I am a tiny bit worried, though, because back after Hurricane Sandy we were without power for like 10 days, even though all areas around us had power, because it turns out our substation is just off the beach, in just about the lowest spot in the neighborhood, and it flooded.  According to the email, low lying areas are flooding now (in a snowstorm?  Yeah, wind on the bay).  

The beach is a particularly unprotected area.

Mother is not happy.

But at least the snow seems to have tapered off.  Now it's just blowing around.


I watched a truck on our street a few hours ago.  It was an unmarked white large pickup, with a flashing yellow light on top, and a plow on the front.  He was coming down the street and slid, and spun around until the truck was at a right angle to the street.  Now, this street is a narrow, dead end street.  It's so narrow that if there's a car parked at the curb (given that most houses don't have driveways or garages, the street is usually lined with cars -- during snowstorms cars aren't allowed to park on the street, so most people park on their lawns), anyway, it's so narrow that two cars can't pass a parked car, one has to pull over and let the other by.  No way you can make a K turn on this street.  This truck was so big, it was sitting there stretching from curb to curb across the street -- and the street hadn't been plowed yet.  

So he started going back and forth, in the foot or so he had available between curbs, turning a tiny bit each time, trying to turn the truck back straight, which was working for a little while (wheels spinning like mad each time), until, funniest thing, his right front wheel and left rear wheel were both up against the curb and he couldn't move at all (the diagonal being longer than the front-to-back length of the truck).  

That was weird.

It was beginning to look like it would take a crane to get it out of there.

Then, as he was spinning wheels trying to climb a curb a little or something, the rear happened slip to to the side, spinning a wheel onto the grate of the storm drain, which was especially slippery, and that spun him around so fast he almost ended up across the road again, facing the other direction.

He pulled out of there fast, and headed back up the street, and never looked back.

Wherever he was headed with that plow (maybe to the township access road down to the storm wall, and the substation) never did get plowed.  


It's 9:30 Sunday morning.  We didn't lose power, and Tim has cleared my driveway.  Total was about 15 inches (for me, anyway.  Due to drifting, some people got more or less). 

My back is still biting me.

5048 Doldrums, with wind.

Saturday, January 23, 2016, 4:30 pm

"Doctors do it for a living, patients do it for life. There's a difference. 
Bother the doctors as much as you need to."
-- Cathy, in "Lessons From Lou" --


The original estimates for today's snow were 8 to 12 inches, ending by evening.  There's already more than a foot out there; latest estimates from the township are 24 inches, ending tomorrow morning.  Sigh.  We were supposed to get lots of wind, which, with luck, would clear the driveway and drift it all into the front yard, but so far it's relatively still, although I can hear the water whipping out on the bay, so I don't know what's going on, really.

I'm very blah, and still being careful about my back.  I've done nothing all day except watch YouTube videos.  First a bunch of MinuteEarth science clips, then 12 clips of The Red Dwarf, and I'm now on the 10th of 13 clips of Blackadder.  Next I guess I'll see what movies are available for free on Amazon Prime.

Even with the heat on as usual, I'm freezing.  My body seems to be more dependent on what's outside the window than what it's like in the house. I don't get that at the country house - always just right - I think it's the difference between a full basement (there) and a slab (here).  

Even so, I suppose I should be glad I didn't go to the country house.  Original weather reports (yesterday) said no snow up there.  Now they're getting a few inches.  A lot less than here, but still enough to make that long uphill driveway possibly impassible.

I hate snow.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

5047-b Snow

Thursday, January 21, 2016

We're supposed to get 8 to 12 inches of snow on Saturday, with winds at 36 mph, and lots of ice.  There's a full moon tide on Saturday night, so with all that wind the township is warning about flooding close to the bay.  "Be prepared to evacuate."  They warn that ice and accidents may take out electricity.

Oh, Joy.

The country house has a 20% chance of ... rain? ... on Saturday.

Maybe I'll head north for the weekend, tomorrow.  Problem is I probably wouldn't be able to get back before Monday, and I hate to leave Jasper for that long.  And my back is very iffy.

I dunno.  We'll see how I feel tomorrow.  At least it is an option.

5047 Fun with locks

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"The higher the buildings, the lower the morals."
-- Noel Coward --

Dilbert, Scott Adams, Thursday, January 21, 2016 
This reminded me of an incident when I was working.  We'd just moved into a brand new building, with four floors, and maybe six aisles of offices on each floor.  We froze at first, and then somebody noticed a thermostat on the wall,  An unprotected thermostat.  It didn't show the ambient temperature, but did show the setting.  So, naturally, somebody boosted the setting.  And it got colder.  So someone else boosted it again.  It got even colder.  Repeat, repeat.  We were freezing our tails off, and building maintenance couldn't figure it out.

What we didn't realize (but the maintenance people did, but couldn't put it together) was that the folks on the other side of the building were roasting.  They kept pushing the setting down on their thermostat, and it just got hotter. Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Once we found that out, the answer was obvious.  The thermostats were hooked up wrong.  The thermostat on our aisle controlled the temperature "somewhere else" (I don't think they ever figured out where) and so on. Instead of rewiring them so each thermostat matched its zone, maintenance just set them all to the same setting, and then put locked boxes over them, so we all alternately froze and roasted together as the sun rose and set.

That was the same building with the locked doors.  We all had confidential stuff in our offices, so the rule was that your office door had to be locked whenever you left your office.  So the office doors were like hotel doors - if it closed, it locked.  This led to two problems:  people were constantly locking themselves out, and some worried that if they closed their door while in their offices, nobody could get to them if there was a medical emergency or something.  If you knock on a closed door, are they out, or are they dead?

It took me about five seconds to figure the latches out.  They were the type that could be popped open with a credit card.   Unbelievable, but true. The word quickly got around that if you were locked out, Silk could get you back in.

I was in great demand those first few weeks, but I never told or showed anyone else how to do it.  Finally, my manager locked himself out, and someone told him to get me, I was faster than maintenance.  I told him to go away for a few minutes, and I popped his door.  I guess he figured it out, because within a week all 250+ doors in the building had new latches - the kind that couldn't be popped.  Plus, they no longer locked automatically, and you couldn't lock them from the inside.  You had to lock them with a key from outside.  So that protected the confidential stuff, kept people from locking themselves out, and ensured that no one would be unconscious on the floor in a locked office (outside of a Sherlock Holmes scenario, anyway).

More recently, at the country house, on one trip up I had forgotten the keys, couldn't get into the house, and had to turn around and drive all the way back without accomplishing anything.  So after that, I left the back door to the garage unlocked, because the door from the garage to the laundry room could be popped if I hadn't locked the deadbolt.  That way, if I ever drove up and had forgotten the keys, I could still get in.  (No, I prefer not to leave a key with anyone or outside somewhere.  I've had bad experiences with that.)

Then one day shortly after that, the Hairless Hunk sent me an email, that he had checked the doors and found the garage door unlocked, so he locked it.  Sigh.  I thanked him, and now the country house key permanently resides in my purse.

I have taught myself over the years to never lock a door unless I am actually holding the key to that door in my hand, the same hand I use to lock the door.  So getting locked out of the house or car is very rare for me.  It's happened maybe four times in my long life, and usually only because the key in my hand is the wrong key.  Nevertheless, Daughter and I have a key to each other's house, just in case, mostly for taking mail in or caring for beasties.

The one time I locked myself out here, Daughter was out and didn't come home for hours, and naturally, I didn't have my cell, either.  Or clothes.  I was in my robe and barefoot.  When she finally got home, she rolled her eyes and said, "Mother, you have a key to my house, and you could just go in and get the key for your house, you know where it is."  I just let her think about that for a minute.  "Oh.  Ne'mind."

Jay's father had those hotel locks on all his exterior doors.  As he got older and more absentminded, I mentioned to Jay's sister that maybe that wasn't such a good idea.  She got all snippy and informed me that they were MUCH safer than locks you had to actively lock, he ALWAYS has his keys in his pocket, she and her husband have the same kind of locks, and implied that I was an idiot.

Just a few weeks after that conversation, Fred let his little doggy out the back door in the morning, but it had snowed heavily the night before, so he stepped out onto the patio to help the dog through a snow drift, and, 'click'.   He was standing there in pajamas and robe and scuff slippers, in a fenced backyard in Rochester, NY, in knee-deep snow.  Luckily, a neighbor had a spare key, and it was early enough that they were still home.   Fred had to walk through knee deep snow in virtually bare feet, climb the fence, plow through to the road to the neighbor's house.  It was a bad scene for a frail man in his nineties.  The locks were changed shortly thereafter, and the sister never said a word to me about it.

One of the local Meetup groups for singles has regular "lock and key" parties.  I've never been to one, so I'm not sure of the details, but I gather that attendance is restricted so that there equal number of males and females ("uh, no you can't sign up unless we get another male...").  Each attendee gets a lock or a key, and then you have all kinds of fun finding the lock or key that matches your key or lock, and then you're supposed to spend the rest of the evening in conversation with that person.

I have zero interest in participating in anything like that, but I'd love to be a fly on the wall.  I imagine maybe there might be a few who find surprisingly fascinating someone they wouldn't otherwise approach, but mostly I suspect there's a lot of disappointment and frustration.  And a lot of not hiding that disappointment and frustration.

Has anybody ever done that?  How did it go? Would you even consider it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

5046 Brush fire 5 - real estate taxes

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Fundamentalism isn't about religion, it's about power."
-- Salmon Rushdie --


I recently read the book The Martian, by Andy Weir.  They made it into a movie, which is out now.  The book is chock full of chemistry and  physics; Jay would have loved it.  I suspect the movie has a different emphasis.  I think the hard science part was all good, as far as I know, but I did find one part that doesn't ring true:  the potatoes.

 The abandoned astronaut turns the habitat into a potato farm, in order to generate enough food to last until he can be rescued.  Their food supply had included some potatoes, meant for a treat for Thanksgiving or something.  He decides he can cut them into pieces and grow them.  

Just one problem with that idea.  Potato sprouts are poisonous, so commercial potatoes sold in the US in the past few decades have been treated to inhibit sprouting.  If you cut up American "eating potatoes" and stick them in the ground, they'll just sit there and rot.  If you want to grow potatoes, you have to buy untreated "seed potatoes".   Untreated potatoes, called "sets", are available from like Agway and other garden supply stores, but they are unlikely to be included in the astronaut's food supplies because, hey, they might sprout.

Some of us are old enough to remember buying potatoes in the grocery store that had long white sprouts growing out through the ventilation holes in the bags.  Mothers would let kids put a potato eye in a saucer of water and grow a little potato plant.  You don't see that any more.  There's a reason for that.  Today's potatoes have tiny dry spots where the eyes used to be.  No sprouting allowed.

The astronaut's potatoes should not have sprouted.


I usually get a real estate tax bill for the country house in late September, due in October.  I seem to recall getting a notice that the bills would be going out late (but of course I can't find that notice now).  Along about the end of December, I noticed that I still hadn't seen the bill.  I had also hadn't received any late notices.  So I called the town tax office, and yeah, the bills had gone out (on time, she says), and yeah, I'm in arrears.  And, no, I can't pay it now, because their office is no longer collecting taxes.  Duh?

I swear I never received the bill.

Two years ago we had a serious problem with mis-delivered mail here.   I was getting mail for other people, at least one a week, sometimes two.  I always stuck it back it the mailbox with a note on it to please redirect it.  You KNOW people had to be getting my mail, right?

Well, it's started again.  I get mail for someone else about once a week, usually a close neighbor.  I usually hand deliver it if they're close, even if it's "spam" mail --- I figure it's not my place to decide what they do or do not want.  I'm wondering how other people handle it.  Do they just throw it out?  Do they open and read it?  I know there are people (really) who think that if they receive mail or packages addressed to someone else, they are allowed to keep it.  

So, what can I do about the unpaid taxes?  The clerk said that unpaid taxes are turned over to the county, then when the county sends out the bills for school taxes in the spring, the unpaid amount will be included in that bill.  That's gonna be a bunch of money, and with my investment situation in turmoil, I'm not sure I'll have it.  

Just another emotional storm.  Ho Hum.

Oh, and my back is out.
Oh, and I planned to head upriver Thursday, returning Saturday, but a major snow storm is predicted, so I guess not.


Later update - See the comments for more on potatoes and  sprouting.

Monday, January 18, 2016

5045 Brush fire 4 - homeowner's insurance

Monday, January 18, 2016

So many religions. So little God.


A little history:  I closed on the city house in October of 2010.  I was mostly living in the country house, going back and forth, few days camping in the new house, few days sorting and packing in the old house, moving small stuff bit by bit.  In fact, Jasper was living upriver until January 2011, when I finally brought him down.  The old house needed a lot of work before I could sell it, but I figured that I could finish everything by summer of 2012 at the latest.  In fact, if I finished by then, I even had a buyer.

And then on April 1, 2011, I had the kidney problem.  The mistakes and ineptitude of doctors had me out of action all summer.  Simply driving for 10 minutes or climbing a flight of stairs had me bleeding and cramping, and then after that it took me many months to get my strength back.  In 2012 I was starting to get in gear again, and then Sandy hit, and I spent the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 in the hospital with what they said was a very bad case of pneumonia, but I suspect was actually an infection from the rampant mold left over from Sandy.  (Probably actually Legionnaires.)  So, more months of trying to get my strength back.  That was most of the summer of 2013.  In the meantime, I got older.  So did the country house.

By 2014 I'd lost my buyer, so there wasn't the urgency.  I got lazy.  I was more interested in playing with the Nugget.  Plus, in the winter I had to contend with snow and ice on the long uphill driveway, which I didn't feel capable of climbing by foot anymore especially if it was too slippery to drive it (I am in fear for my hips, NO falls allowed), and in the summer the air conditioning was kaput, so I had lots of excuses to avoid going up there.

In 2015 I had new a/c installed.  You know, I thought I hadn't gone up there all summer, but actually I visited in June, July, August, September, and October, so I wasn't as bad as I thought.  I was up there two weeks ago.

Anyway --- the insurance on that house.  Back in the beginning, when I was between houses, I explained the situation to my homeowners' insurance folks, and they were fine with it, especially since I wasn't planning to rent it out, so my policy stayed the same coverage at the same rate.  Well, it's a few years later, and I guess someone took a look at my file and wondered what's going on.  I got a letter from the local rep up there asking me to call and fill them in.  So my next trip up (two weeks ago) I stopped in their office.  I wanted to explain this (and plead my case) in person rather than on the phone.  "So, this is not your primary home?"  "No, but all my furniture and most of my books and clothing still think it is...."

She said she'd check on what they could do.  They'd probably still cover it for fire, but only the structure, not the contents.  I shrugged and said that's fine, most of the valuable stuff is out, all I'd be sad about is the dining room suit and the antique Chinese bed.  She said she'd get back to me soon.  I haven't heard from her.  I don't know what that means, but at least they do have to notify me if they cancel, and I'm not going to push it.  Until they notify me in writing, I still have the same coverage.

You know, there are a LOT of summer and weekend homes up around there. Ski lodges.  Fancy hunting cabins. Rich folks from the city.  Some major estates.  Some little cottages.  At least one house two doors down from mine (belongs to some semi-famous writer).  I wonder how their insurance is handled?

One of the things we discussed is the amount the house is insured for.  As usual, the insurance companies increase the coverage every year, with no regard to the housing market.  I think they go by inflation or something.  It can get ridiculous, because if something happens, they will pay what it will cost to rebuild or repair, which is WAY less than what they had boosted you to and you'd been paying premiums on.  Turns out, they had me insured for twice what I could sell the house for.  I asked if we could reduce that, because even if the house burned up or flew away, I'd still have the 1.3 acres of ridge-top land, the fantastic views, the foundation, and the well.  All I need it insured for is demolition and rebuild costs, and I'm sure that's much less than the market value of the house and land, especially when that's been inflated.  You know, she actually had to think about that..  Man, I think it's obvious.

Anyway, that's another thing that was hanging over my head and emotionally sapping.  Still waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

5044 Brush fire 3 - investment account

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"The beauty and intricacy of a person's mind has little or nothing to do with outward appearances."


First, some extraneous thoughts:

Microsoft keeps urging me in popups to "reserve my copy of Windows 10".  Why "reserve"?  Are they in danger of running out of copies?

The huge Power Ball lottery.   I am amused by the people who accuse ticket buyers of being mathematically challenged, pointing out the enormous odds of winning.  So what?  Even though I never buy lottery tickets, I don't see those who do decide to take a chance on huge winnings as mathematically illiterate.  The way I see it, someone has to win, someone will win, and I have exactly the same chance of winning as that person.  So two dollars is not too much to share that person's chance at a billion or two.  (However, I don't have the same attitude toward buying tickets every day.  There are better ways to spend that money.)

Anybody else getting whiffs of McCarthyism from the Republican candidates?  (An interesting detail -- Joseph McCarthy's grave is on the banks of the Fox River.)


Back in November I got a call from Piper.  He was sending me some papers he wanted me to sign.  He's moving his clients' accounts to a different custodian.

So, the papers arrived.  Currently the custodian of my account is a well-known Wall Street bank.  I didn't recognize the name on the forms to which he wants to move my account.  He's also changing the brokerage that holds his license.  As of January 1, his relationship with the old brokerage ends.  I don't know the right terms for all this stuff, or the nature of the relationships, but that doesn't really matter.

Anyway, having never heard of this new custodian, I did some research, and I really really don't want to transfer to them.  This issue has consumed a lot of physical and emotional energy lately, and I'm tired of it.

They're in Alabama.  (Immediate bells went off.  Alabama?  Would I be depending on graduates of the Alabama public school system?) A bit over a year ago they fired several top executives because, uh, somebody was using company funds for yachts, summer homes, vacations, or whatever.  Digging a bit deeper I get the impression that this company is a good-old-boys country club run for the sole benefit of the good-old-boys who figured they'd found a goose that lays golden eggs with very little attention required.  

Lots of other unpleasant details.  

The most damning, as far as I'm concerned, is that in the summer of 2014 an employee took a laptop home and lost it in a restaurant bathroom.  The damning part is that client records (personal info, SS#s, account numbers, account activity, etc) are kept on the laptops, the employees are allowed to take them home, and nothing was encrypted.  A lower-level employee said that purchase of an encryption package had been submitted for the budget every year, and every year it had been rejected, "no funds in the budget" for that.  But check out what the executives are paid.  This is a clear indication to me that the safety of client data is very low on their priority list.

They've got some large nasty lawsuits going on, some from those fired executives, at least one multi-million dollar suit alleging shady business practices, and so on.  Of course, they might even prevail.  I don't care.  What matters is that there have been some very bad decisions made, and the culture of the company is such that an employee does not feel free to bring problems to management's attention for fear of being seen as "not a team player", or "rocking the boat", which is never a good thing.  They were fined (a piddling amount!) for the lack of encryption, and I have been unable to find anything about what they're doing about security now.  Doesn't matter.  I am not convinced that the attitude that lead to the cavalier treatment of client data is not endemic.  It'll crop up somewhere else, in some other form.

After a hundred years in business as a private company, they've been bought out by one of those fast-growing folks who snap up "companies in turmoil", as these folks have been described, at a bargain price, such purchase frequently to raid the assets or at least to absorb them.  This could be a good thing, but according to what I have been able to find out about the agreement, they are going to be allowed to operate autonomously.  I presume under the same management.  Not a good thing.

I asked Piper why he chose this particular bunch, and what I got back was a long screed about how wonderful the new brokerage firm is (is that what you call the folks he now works under?), but nothing about the custodial idiots in Alabama.  So, then I did the research on the brokers, and they're fine. 

So, no, I'm not going to sign the forms to move my account.  If Piper can't handle it where it currently is (does it matter who he's licensed through?  Maybe it affects how he's paid?) then, well, oops.

Piper is getting frantic.  In my latest email to him (I won't talk to him on the phone anymore, especially not about this) Friday I asked what our options are.  I know him well enough to know that now he's going to go into high gear to convince me, but my mind is made up, heels are dug in, and I really don't want to discuss it further.

Up in the air right now.


Something else I know about Piper -- "research" is a foreign concept to him.  He used to send me some of the most outrageous emails, you know, those mass mailings forwarded all over the world that originate with satirical "news" sites as truth, but are obvious blatant lies to anyone with half a brain, but believed by people who WANT to believe them.

I always responded to those with articles and sites that refute them, usually, but he never learned, and I finally had to get a bit insulting -- "please, before making yourself look like a total ass, do some minimal research before forwarding this crap".  He stopped including me in his distribution, but I'll bet he still believes that crap.

So, I'll bet he took someone's recommendation in choosing that Alabama bunch without ever doing any research of his own. 

5043 Snow

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. 
When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, 
you will understand why I dismiss yours."
--Stephen Roberts--


Snow is falling, lightly.  Just started.  Our first snow of the winter.  

I should have moved "buy sand" up higher on the "to do" list....

Thursday, January 14, 2016

5042 Something strange....

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other.
Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction."
--George W. Bush, Milwaukee, Wis., Oct. 3, 2003--


There's a white spot in Sweden (inside the Arctic circle):'37.0%22N+20%C2%B055'10.9%22E/@68.3766825,20.9188504,490m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0    My first guess was a frozen lake, but other lakes in the area are clearly not frozen.  Then I found this: follow the road east about 3000 feet, then take the spur to the north.  What's THAT cluster?!

A bit further north we find this:'37.0%22N+20%C2%B055'10.9%22E/@68.4549658,21.0819801,622m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0

I scouted around a bit and found more solitary white circles, and more green-brown clusters, and in every case, roads go to them.  (I just realized, I'm assuming those are roads, but it's possible they are caribou/reindeer trails.  Leads to interesting thoughts.) 

Anyone know what these things are?   They don't stand up from the surface much, they are flat.  There are villages in the vicinity, but at a (safe?) distance from the spots, and roads go to the spots.  I'm not sure they're villages, either - they're widely scattered houses along the roads.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

5041 Random

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.
– B. F. Skinner --


I thought this was amusing:  from Google Translate was criticised in Russia on Tuesday after it emerged that the service was translating the term “Russian Federation” to “Mordor”.  I assume that's the Ukranian Google, translating from Russian to Ukranian.

The explanation offered by Google is that humans are not involved in translations.  Instead, the service scans  hundreds of millions of documents to find the best translation. But, of course, not being human, it doesn't always "get" the context.  One has to wonder what documents were scanned, and how many led to "Mordor".


I'm reading the new Stephen King compilation of short stories.  I'm pleased to report that I'm halfway through, and so far only half of the stories get into horror.  I prefer King when he's more psychological or philosophical than when he's freaky.

One of the stories is about a couple who are just barely making ends meet, behind on the rent, can't afford the car insurance, and so on.  He is a substitute teacher, and she is a healthcare worker caring for a wealthy old man six hours a day, six days a week.  That's thirty-six hours a week, right?  Without giving anything away, the old man offers the woman $200,000 to do something.  The couple are debating whether to go for it or not, and she says that it would take her three years to earn that much.

My head spun. 

Either Mr. King, or I, have no idea what life costs and jobs pay these days.  That means she is currently making something like $67K per year.  And plus whatever money the husband is bringing in, that's not enough to support them?  I don't understand. Many decades ago I was a substitute teacher for a year, and I remember that it amazed me that an average of two days a week netted me more than what a salaried teacher made, so the couple had to be together currently pulling in well over $100K.  I guess I really have no idea what an average salary is these days, or what it costs to run a small household.  Either I don't, or Mr. King doesn't.  I don't get it.

Another story is about a Kindle that offers the user what appear to be alternate timelines, like one where Hemingway (and a bunch of other writers) lived longer and wrote some other books.  And you could look up newspapers and read about events that happened in other possibilities, including one where the Cuban missile crisis resulted in all-out nuclear war and the end of civilization.  It blows the minds of two college literature instructors and a student who go a little bit crazy looking stuff up.

I don't get their reactions.  It's not like they are just curious.  They seem to think this stuff really happened and that it somehow has meaning to them.  If I came across something like that, I'd think "fan fiction", and just be impressed that there was so much of it.  And I know that the Cuban Missile crisis didn't kill us all, so I'd figure that was fiction, too.  And even if it WAS material from "other time lines" (which I'd have trouble believing, but even so) I'd figure what the heck, it's not mine, has nothing to do with this life, and as far as I'm concerned it's all fiction.

I'm not all the way through that story yet, but I still think that the protagonists need a slap upside their heads.


I've been reading a lot of tributes to David Bowie.  Three things impress me - 1.) that everyone pretty much says  the same things about him, 2.) that everyone mentions Space Oddity, and 3.) that almost everyone who mentioned listening to his music over the past few days made a point of mentioning that said music was pirated, as if they thought he would approve of that.


The Wizard of Oz as never seen before: 

This one is called "Of Oz the Wizard".  Some guy (sorry, I didn't make a note of his name, but I'm sure it's Googleable) went through the entire movie, chopping it into pieces by individual words, and putting it back together in alphabetical order, but still in chronological order by word.  It's an hour and forty-one minutes long.  I went to it just out of curiosity, thinking it would be immensely boring, but it's not boring.  It's great!

Some sections are better than others.  I especially enjoyed "hhh", starting about 38 minutes in (skip ahead).  I've been watching in bits and pieces of down time, and am now at one hour in, at the word "now".


I still want to write up the "brush fires", but I just haven't had time.  This stuff required no thought....

Saturday, January 09, 2016

5040 Sidetracked to Hershey

Saturday, January 9, 2016

If a problem has a solution, there is no need to worry, 
and if a problem has no solution, worrying will do no good.
--Buddhist Proverb --


I was reading another blog, and the blogger mentioned visiting Indian Echo Caverns in Pennsylvania.  I'd seen the signs along the roads for that, back when I lived in Gettysburg, so I looked it up on Google maps.  It's between Harrisburg and Hershey.  That took me to Hershey.

In 1951, when I was in first grade, we briefly lived on Chocolate Avenue, directly across the street from the original chocolate factory.  (By "briefly", I was in five different schools, from the deep south to eastern Pa, for first grade.  We didn't live anywhere for more than six weeks while Daddy was in radar school.)  The factory had a large circular flower bed in front, with an "H" in the middle.  I don't remember at all what the house looked like, except that it was one-story, square, brick, one of a group of similar houses along the street, and the back yards were connected and full of flowering shrubs and paved paths.  It was a good place for playing outside.  The other thing I remember is that my mother hated Thursdays, because that's when Hershey roasted almonds, and she hated the odor of roasting almonds.  

Mom wanted to tour the factory, but they wouldn't take just anyone --- you had to be part of a tour group.  One day she saw a bus pull up to the entrance, and the tour group was all women and small children.  She grabbed me and we ran across the street and joined that group.  I guess no one counted the people, because no one questioned our being there.

It was the real* factory, a walking tour, where a worker from each section explained stuff.  What I remember best was the kisses.  Thousands of them, hot and shiny and perfect on a wide conveyor belt, traveling off into the distance like something in an old movie.  Glorious!

So, I went to the western corner of Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues on Google maps street view, where the old factory was, hoping to find our old house right across from the flower bed.

Nope.  What had been a two-lane street is now a multi-lane highway.  There's no room anymore for flowers in front of the old factory, which is now a sort of museum, and across the street there are no houses at all.  It's all big buildings and parking lots.

Sigh. It really was such a nice neighborhood.


*Some years ago Hershey moved the factory to a building that was easier to automate the processes, and no longer allows public tours at the real factory.  If you go to Hershey today, you can take a "factory tour", but it's all fake.  A different building, built for the purpose.  You ride in stupid little cars, just like at Disney World, and cows sing to you.  People still mention the kisses on the conveyor belt, though....

Sigh.  I feel like I lost my past.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

5039 Brush fire 2 - water

January 7, 2016

Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law.” 
 --circa 1764--


My front lawn has a slight slope down to the road.  We had lots of rain throughout October and November, and I noticed that the end of the lawn near the road stayed wet a lot.  I sort of thought it was because under the thin layer of sod it's pure clay, so the lawn just wasn't absorbing the rain very well.

Then later I noticed that right along the curb, the grass was dying.

Then a week later I noticed that even though there'd been no rain for several days, water was spilling over the curb and running down the street to the storm drain.  Hmmmm.  That's not right.  Hmm.  My water meter is buried in the lawn just above the wet spot.

So. in mid-December I called the water department.  Left a voice mail, "Please send someone out to check the meter.  I think it's leaking.  Water is coming up through my lawn and running down the street."

A week passed with no response.  So I called again.  Again, "Leave a message."  The water is now coming up between the end of my driveway and the curb.  I'm worried about it undermining my driveway, and if it freezes under it, it will destroy my driveway.

Five days passed with no response.  It's now a heavy flow over the curb and down the street.  I wrote a letter to the town hall, ATTN: Water Dept. Fix this, damn it!

No response.  Until yesterday.  We'd had our first hard freeze.  The water continued to pour over the curb from my lawn, but on its trip down the street it froze, and had formed a sheet of ice several feet wide and a few inches thick, and growing.  About 10 am I found this stuck to my front door (I was home at the time, by the way, but there was no knock on the door):

I totally flipped out!  Jasper heard some words he'd never heard before.  

I called the number on the form, talked to a woman there, told them it's YOUR $%^&$%ing water, not mine, and I can't get anyone to respond.  She gave me the number to call for the water department, I called there --- and --- left a voice message.  I then sat down and wrote a very angry letter to the township water department which I intended to hand-carry to town hall.  But, in the meantime, the neighborhood had heard about it, and apparently several people were calling to complain.  Somebody must "know" somebody, because as I was leaving the house to tear some asses at town hall, I discovered a water department truck at the curb, and a man opening the hatch to the water meter.

Two hours later everything was fixed.

The guy was up to his elbows in freezing water in below freezing weather, and I told him I had started calling about this back when it was in the low 60s out, so when he gets back to the office he should complain, too.  He told me that when they'd installed meters back a few years ago, they'd used a meter with a plate on the bottom that (this is hard to believe) disintegrates in water.  I said "No shit."  (I was still in a swearing mood.)  He showed it to me when he pulled it out, and it really, seriously, was disintegrated.  There were four flanges on the sides where the bolts go to hold it on, and two of them were completely gone, no sign of them.  He replaced it with a cap that looks like fiberglass.  And I said, "So you guys know this is going to happen, everywhere?"

No idea whether there's damage to my driveway.  The lawn got dug up around the meter, and refilled with frozen clods.

But at least the flow has stopped.

Oh, by the way, I've still had no response to my calls or letter.  Just in case you were wondering. 


Coming up:
Brush fire 6 - eBay, 5 - real estate taxes, 4 - homeowner's insurance, and 3 - investments.

5038 Brush fire 1 - van

January 7, 2016

There's a fine line between genius and insanity, 
but the line between beautiful and ugly is really, really thick.
– Mil Millington --


I haven't been keeping up with this blog because I've been stomping brush fires.  It's been one thing after another, and I don't know if it's age or just the way things go these days, but it seems like everything takes forever.  So much energy.

The battery in my van died a long time ago. Like more than a year ago.  Hercules gave me a jump one spring day, and I drove it around for a while to charge the battery, but then the next day it wouldn't start again (not even a rrr-rrr-rrr), so I let it sit.  I didn't do anything about it because I knew that the vehicle needed a lot of work to be dependable, and it was easier to think about buying oh, maybe a commercial van, or something, than to actually do anything.  So, in November I called my local garage folks, and they came and got it. They came out with some kind of electric pack, and they drove it to the garage.  They will also deliver, which is nice.  

So, they had the van for weeks.  The alternator was ok, but it needed a new battery.  And oil change.  And this and that from being left sitting for so long.  And brake lines.  Oh, and there's a gas leak somewhere, so they have to drop the tank to find that.  Then replace the fuel pump (gaskets leaking).   Every time they called with something new, they gave me an estimate.  Now, there was a definite communication problem there.  The numbers kept going up, so I assumed that was the total.  Nope, every call was just THAT problem.  In addition.  So at the end I was expecting a bill of about $1400, and was shocked when he wanted almost $3000!  (Something like $2994.)

I can't complain too much.  I told Mike I wanted the van to be dependable, so do whatever it needs to put it in very good shape.  I'm comfortable with what they did, I'm not so worried about the trip upriver now, but it was a scramble to pay that bill.

Then, the rest of the story.

The van had been sitting in the driveway for more than a year, driver's side about six inches from the edge of the lawn.  When the mechanic delivered the van, he parked it in the same spot, and I gave him a ride back to the garage in my car.  Big mistake.  I should have used the van to take him back.  Then I'd have seen this before he got away:

A surprise:

The fender:

The door:

The garage was closed by then, so I immediately called and left a phone message so there would be no mistake about when it had happened (or more accurately, NOT happened).   And then I took the van over the next morning so he could see it. 

Naturally, he claimed it looked like that when they picked it up.  Uh, no, it had been parked next to the lawn for more than a year.  There's no way it got hit there.  My neighbors can all verify that.  This happened when it was in your care. 

The scrapes went right down to the base coat, so he claimed that door had already been repainted once.  Uh, no, I bought the thing new, have been the only owner, and except for a scratch near the door handle, there hasn't been a single solitary mark on this vehicle in fifteen years.  I'm rather proud of that. 

He seemed to think he could get out of it some way until I said that it looked to me like someone parked too closely had turned into me trying to get out, scraping me, probably a large SUV or truck, and that the policeman had agreed that's what it looked like.  He looked shocked.  "You called the police?!"  "Uh, yeah.  If I have to go to my insurance company for a hit and run, they'll want a police report from as close to the accident time as possible."

So, they had it for another two weeks.  It now has a new door panel (supposed to be the same color, but it's slightly off because it's not as faded), and the dent in the fender is pulled out and the scrapes polished out.

This was all emotionally exhausting.

I don't want to dirty that pond, because with the van's dropped floor and 4 inch clearance, it can't go up on any old rack, so it's hard to find a good mechanic who has the right lift or pit to work on it.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

5037 Country visit

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Comparison is the thief of joy.


I'm at the country house, arrived late last night.  I had wanted to come up last Monday, but about two hours before departure time, I got a notice from the Rhinebeck community forum that they were expecting a major ice storm, starting Monday evening and extending into Wednesday night.  According to news reports, it was pretty bad.  So I drove up last evening instead.

I didn't see any snow or any indication of anything nasty the whole drive up, until I turned into this street, and POW, there were actual snowbanks on the side of the street.  Yeah, my house is on a ridge, but it's not that high, so I never have understood why snow and ice is so much worse, as soon as you turn off route 9 onto this street. As soon as, as in before it ever starts going up.

I had not left the heat on after my last trip.  I arrived about nine PM.  The temperature outside was below freezing, and it was 40 F inside.  I was so grateful when the furnace went on with no complaints, but warming up took a very long time, because everything in the house had to be warmed, too. I finally was able to stop shivering long enough to fall asleep under a comforter and two blankets at about one am, and by then the thermostat said it was 51.  By morning it was 74, but every time the furnace decided it was satisfied, the air cooled off quickly, because walls and furniture were still absorbing heat.  When I leave tomorrow, I'll leave it set at 55.

It's been a while since I've been here, so I haven't done much of anything today.  Just soaking up the vibes of the house.  Returning south tomorrow, after a few business calls.  I am not looking forward to one of them.  I'm going to blow Piper out of the water.  I'll detail that when I have a keyboard.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

5036 Screwed up the MRD

Saturday, December 12, 2015

If all your friends are fat, there are no seesaws, only catapults.
 – Demetri Martin –


Lately I've been sleeping oddly.  I go to bed very early, then read in bed or do logic puzzles for an hour or two, fall asleep, then I awaken again somewhere between 2 and 5 am, read or puzzle some more, fall asleep again, and wake in the morning.  Last night I woke up about 2 am, started to read, and decided I wanted something to eat.  So I came downstairs, and while munching on crackers and peanut butter, I puttered around on the computer.  I was still mulling over why the 401K folks seemed surprised that I asked more more than the Minimum Required Distribution on the 401K, so I looked some stuff up.

Well, it turns out I had been given bad advice several months ago, when I was looking into the requirements for taking the MRD (a.k.a.RMD) from my 401K and the IRAs.  The amount one has to take depends on the account balances from 12/31 of the previous year, and a percentage from IRS tables.  I had been told by my financial advisers that I could add up the accounts, arrive at the total MRD, and then take all of it from any one of the accounts, or a bit from each, or any combination, as long as the total came out to the required minimum --- and back then I found nothing online that disputed that.  So I added it all up, and took it all from the 401K.

Surprise.  I found a very recent article that says that you cannot combine the 401K with IRAs.  You can combine several IRA balances and take money from any of them, but a 401K has to be handled separately.  You have to take the 401K's MRD only from the 401K, and you can't take any IRA MRDs from the 401K.

Crap.  If I hadn't found that, I'd have been hit with major tax penalty for not having taken any MRD from the IRAs!

So, I did that at 3 am.  I took the required amount from each of the IRAs.  The IRS will have nothing to complain about.

I'm still a bit confused about why I have to pay a 20% tax "penalty" on the "excess" over the required minimum I took from the 401K.  I thought this was my retirement account, and that I'm now old enough to be able to take as much as I want out of there whenever I want --- whatever I need to live on, right?  It likely has to do with what portion is "tax free", and anything over that is taxed as income.  But I ran the numbers, and if I were to take only the minimum every year, that account wouldn't be drained until I'm 115 years old.  I'm not likely to live that long.

BTW, there's no penalty if I take money out of the 401K and roll it over into an IRA, and then I can take all I need from the IRA whenever I need it, taxed as normal income.  No penalty.  I think.  I'll have to look into that next year.