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. 


Later update, 2/25/16:
Not true.  It appears I view the old house with rose-colored glasses.  I've been reading old posts, and was surprised to find that I was often cold in the country house in the winter.  Hands, feet, nose freezing.  It seems that once the sun goes down, I get cold, regardless of the air temperature, floor temperature, or tightness of the house.

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....